Manipal University Manipal 17th January 2014

31ST T.A PAI MEMORIAL LECTURE DELIVERED BY SHRI NAVIN B CHAWLA,
FORMER CHIEF ELECTION
COMMISSIONER
MANIPAL UNIVERSITY, MANIPAL, 17TH JANUARY, 2014

On 17 Jan 2014, Navin B Chawla delivered the 31st T.A Pai Memorial Lecture at Manipal University. The subject was “Has India made a mockery of democracy?” He argued strongly that India had not made a mockery of our democracy.

India was among a clutch of nations that gained freedom from colonial rule at about the same time that India did(1947). In many countries, even in our neighborhood, there has only been intermittent democracy. In some countries democracy has come in only brief intervals of military dictatorships. In others there have been the most wrenching of insurgencies. In yet others, a settled constitution is yet to emerge.

Meanwhile, India adopted a Constitution in 1950, and was a proclaimed a Republic on 26 January, 1950. The Election Commission came into being on 25 January 1950. Since 1951-52, we have held elections on time, every time. There has always been an orderly transfer of power. The loser has always passed on the baton to the winner.

Among our many positive points is a functioning and respected Judiciary, an Election Commission internationally acknowledged for conducting free and fair elections on time, every time. We have a well structured Civil Service. These and many other strengths that also arose from a written constitution, that in many ways reflected our freedom struggle under Mahatma Gandhi, as well as the acumen and wisdom of Dr Ambedkar and other distinguished members, who drafted the Constitution. The building and sheltering of our vital Institutions under India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, was also a signal contribution to the strengthening of our Institutions. Indeed these have helped us to withstand the vicissitudes that emerged in more recent decades.

On the negative side we still have still not freed all our people from the insecurities of food, shelter, sanitation and health services. There is much to do in these respects.

On the electoral front, while we have still to tackle the growing problems of “money and muscle power”. We have however overcome the problem of overt criminality (in the form of booth capturing and violence) during elections. This is still seen in elections held in many parts of the world. India has a robust and well respected Election Commission that has delivered free, fair and transparent elections, and has developed many strengths over the last six decades. It is viewed by all as a fair umpire and ia an important pillar of India’s democratic structure.

To sum up, the answer is that we have NOT made a mockery of democracy, and our institutions of State are durable and sturdy. Our people have come to realise the power of the vote, and have also recognised that almost all sections of society can and does contribute to government formation, (and have power sharing) by their participation. This is only possible in a democratic polity.