Why India votes? Democracy is an egalitarian force


Democracy is an egalitarian force

Why you should care to read this GK article?

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The Indian's perspective on voting:

I vote to establish my identity and let the government know that there is someone with so-and-so name living in so-and-so village.

After this mark (the indelible ink), we are all similar, and have become equal after voting. Each vote has the same value, no matter whose it is. That makes us all equal today.

In her 2014 ethnographic inquiry Why India Votes?, Mukulika Banerjee reported the aforementioned.

Consider the book, How India Became Democratic: Citizenship and Making of the Universal Franchise; Ornit Shani.

Ornit Shani, an academic at the University of Haifa, tells the story of the preparation of the draft electoral roll after Independence but before the enactment of the Constitution, and makes the grand claim that “Indians became voters before they were citizens.” She chronicles this process of making every Indian a voter at a time when the founding fathers were still working out the changes and continuities from the colonial regime into free India, when the integration of princely states was still going on, when the violence and migrations of Partition were altering demographics, when there was no template on how to enrol the last voter by name and residence.

Constituent Assembly Secretariat:

The Constituent Assembly Secretariat (CAS) took a gigantic exercise and the integrity of the process that they worked out on the go, that ensured that “while the details of India’s constitution were formulated by the Constituent Assembly, democracy was made on the ground not from a formal abstract consultation, but from wrestling with the practical problems of implementing the registration of all adults would-be citizens as voters.

There were instances of practical problem-solving whose import went beyond just the process of enrolment and to the larger question of what it meant for a free population to engage with a bureaucracy that till just the other day implemented imperial rule.

The Government of India Act of 1935:

On the ground, it meant shunning ingrained instincts to limit franchise, as under the Government of India Act of 1935, and enable an egalitarian capaciousness. So the Government of the United Provinces told District Magistrates: “There will be no need to refer to… income tax, or revenue records, to judge a person’s eligibility for being a voter nor will the roll for an area be prepared according to communities.”

The most significant aspects of the Act were:

  • the grant of a large measure of autonomy to the provinces of British India (ending the system of diarchy introduced by the Government of India Act, 1919).
  • provision for the establishment of a "Federation of India", to be made up of both British India and some or all of the "princely states."
  • the introduction of direct elections, thus increasing the franchise from seven million to thirty-five million people.

Conversations such as these highlight a particular assertion of citizenship that obtains on voting days and goes to the heart of the unique quality of Indian democracy.

It is a big, big exercise!

It was a finely detailed exercise. Governments deliberated on, say, a possible shortfall of paper, and the modalities of how to list house numbers, even arrange names and figure out the age of a voter. 

  • It is especially interesting to note the difference between colonial and free India on the question of women being enrolled under their own names.
  • For the limited franchise under the 1935 Act, women were allowed, variously, “to nominate some person to exercise the vote”, or “to be entered in the roll as ‘the wife of A.B. (the husband’s name)’ or, if she is unmarried, as ‘the daughter of A.B. (father’s name)’.”
  • Now, post-1947, it was made clear that a woman voter could not be listed as someone’s “wife”, she had to be listed under her own name.
  • A letter from the U.P. government to the District Officer in Agra, for example, suggested propaganda work to convince women to do so, including press publicity, “beat of drums” and inclusion of “women workers for the purpose.”
  • In other words, a progressive way was being forged for every Indian to “let the government know that there is someone with so-and-so name living in so-and-so village.”

Courtesy: http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/how-india-became-democratic-citizenship-and-making-of-the-universal-franchise-review-the-mark-that-makes-us-equal/article23400419.ece?homepage=true

Also Read Trillion-dollar states in India, NFRA

Read 362 times Last modified on Monday, 16 April 2018 14:23
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