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Speech delivered by Shri Navin B. Chawla at INCAA 2nd Indian Anthropological Congress Human Development: Evolution and Vision at University of Pune on 21 - 23 February 2007
After attaining Independence in 1947, India adopted its Constitution in 1950 proclaiming the country as a Sovereign, Democratic, Republic. A parliamentary democracy on the Westminster model was established and an independent Election Commission set up to ensure regular, free and fair elections. The universal adult franchise was adopted as the basis of elections to the Parliament and State Legislatures. However, doubts were expressed at that time as to whether the democratic system would work in a country where 84 per cent of the population was still illiterate. Time has set these doubts to rest by the manner in which the Indian electorate has voted since Independence. The Indian electorate has shown not only their firm belief in the democratic structure and institutions that the Constitution has provided but also their political maturity by smooth transfer of power from one party to another, from one Government to another.
There is recognition of India as a stable, vibrant democracy characterized by regular, free and fair elections in our three tier set-up, i.e., the national level, state level and at the local levels of self-government (known generically as Panchayat Raj institutions). The size and diversity of the country, the logistic and administrative requirements, the contestation and participation make Indian elections largest exercise of its kind in the entire world. There are 543 Lok Sabha (the lower House of Parliament) constituencies, 245 seats in the Rajya Sabha (the Upper House of Parliament) of which 233 are elected and 12 nominated, and 4120 Assembly Constituencies spread over 35 States and Union Territories. Apart from this, there are nearly 235,000 Gram Panchayats, over 6000 Intermediate Panchayats and 537 District Panchayats for which elections are organised and held under the supervision of the respective State Election Commissioners of each State. A study by Prof. Yogendra Yadav has shown that on a rough estimate the number of elected representatives from the national to the village level is no less than three million.
Article 324 of the Constitution of India bestows on the Election Commission of India the ‘superintendence, direction and control of the conduct of all elections to Parliament and legislature of every state, and all the elections to the offices of President and Vice-President’ on the Election Commission of India. This Article of the Constitution of India is unique in as much as it provides special powers during the entire electoral process making the Election Commission supreme in all matters relating to the actual conduct of elections.
Elections, as per constitutional provisions, have been held timely in every instance in the entire history of post-independence India, reinforcing the impartial and neutral image of the Commission. Fourteen general elections to Lok Sabha, the House of the People of Indian Parliament, and more than 300 general elections to the State Legislative Assemblies have firmly established democratic values and practices in the country and made it one of the best democracies in the modern world, apart from being the largest. Indian democracy is deep rooted and assures stability and peaceful change of Governments. If we look around and compare the democratic functioning in India with other nations, who also got freedom from foreign rule more or less around the same time, India, in the worlds of our Supreme Court is indeed “an oasis of Democracy”.