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V. Balachandran is a former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat.

Centralised, non partisan system makes polls smooth

Dr Ambedkar’s foresight saved the independence of our elections from marauding state political leaders.

People wait in long queues to cast their votes at a polling station for Lok Sabha elections in Nishangram in Goalpara, Assam on Thursday. PTI

y now our democracy has experienced 15 general elections. It took nearly four months for the first general elections to be completed for an electorate of 173,212,343, between October 1951 and February 1952. They chose 489 seats in the Lok Sabha from 401 constituencies in 26 states. In those days, 314 constituencies had one seat each, 86 had two seats and one in West Bengal had three seats. We had nine-part "A" states, seven-part "B" states and ten-part "C" states. This year, for the 16th general elections, we have a massive electorate of 814,500,000, the biggest in the world, who will choose incumbents for 543 seats in the Lower House in just over a month, from 7 April to 12 May.

In the cacophony of election propaganda unleashed by different political parties through the print, visual and social media, a point often forgotten is how difficult it would have been for us to conduct such elections smoothly had our founding fathers not established a centralised, non partisan system of elections. This is in direct contrast to our internal security system, which they left to the mercy of the political leadership of 28 (now 29) states and seven union territories as they blindly copied the Seventh Schedule of the colonial 1935 Act for distributing Centre-State powers.

What would have happened to us, a country with considerable internal migration, if we had adopted a system like in the United States, which entirely depends upon different state laws for voter registration and for voter eligibility? What would have happened to us if the ballot papers differed from state to state or in some cases even from county to county like in the US? Or for that matter if voting methods (ballot paper with manual marking, optical scan system where paper is used, lever machines, punch card machines or touch screen systems) had differed from state to state? Or if we had blindly followed our own "Objectives Resolution" of 13 December 1946, which stated that the states and territories "shall possess and retain the status of autonomous Units, together with residuary powers and exercise all powers and functions of government and administration"?

In fact, our Constitutional debates on 15 June 1949 indicated that the original proposal before the Drafting Committee was to have a "separate election commission for each province under the guidance of the governor and the local government". But as the late Dr B.R. Ambedkar remarked on that day: "But, this change has become necessary because today we find that in some of the provinces of India, the population is a mixture. There are what may be called original inhabitants, so to say, the native people of a particular province. Along with them, there are other people residing there, who are either racially, linguistically or culturally different from the dominant people who are the occupants of that particular Province. It has been brought to the notice both of the Drafting Committee as well as of the Central Government that in these provinces the executive Government is instructing or managing things in such a manner that those people who do not belong to them either racially, culturally or linguistically, are being excluded from being brought on the electoral rolls."

It was the foresight of Dr Ambedkar which saved the independence of our election process from some of our marauding state political leaders, who could have indirectly disfranchised large sections of our population, as we see even now when some stray voices are heard to exclude certain sections of the population on religious or linguistic grounds. In this he was ably supported by the late K.M. Munshi, who rejected the idea that it encroached on the states' jurisdiction: "I would warn the Members who are still harping on the same subject to remember one supreme fact in Indian history that the glorious days of India were only the days, whether under the Mauryas or the Moghuls, when there was a strong central authority in the country, and the most tragic days were those when the central authority was dismembered by the provinces trying to resist it."

These prophetic words were said in 1949. The adverse results of the dispersal of Central authority are seen all over, especially in internal security.

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