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"REGIONAL STRUCTURE OF INTEGRATION PROCESSES : A VIEW OF INDIA’S EVOLVING ELECTION PROCESSES THROUGH THE ELECTION COMMISSION OF INDIA"
PAPER PRESENTED BY THE FORMER CHIEF ELECTION COMMISSIONER OF INDIA, NAVIN B. CHAWLA
UNDER THE AUSPICES OF WORLD PUBLIC FORUM "DIALOGUE OF CIVILIZATIONS"
RHODES ISLAND, GREECE
6-10 OCTOBER 2011
This paper attempts to configure the evolving ethos and development of India’s Election Commission in the context of a political awakening of its different castes, classes, communities, linguistic groups, scheduled tribes and its multi-religious mosaic, through the stream of India’s election laws and process. Once seen against a back drop of illiteracy and social tensions, the evolution of the electoral process has involved the vitality of greater and more broad based participation, almost with every election. In the complex electoral mosaic stand both traditional values and newer integration processes, social tensions and innovating measures to help to constructively resolve them, at the same time bringing the different strands into the electoral mainstream, with the perception that each vote can make or mar a candidate’s election, and hence the right to vote emerges not only as a fundamental right, but an instrument of the greater political awakening with youth involvement as well, there has been a steady movement away from elite domination to the widest enfranchisement and participation involving every eligible section of society.
The empowering impact of elections in India is significant. India is a caste-based society with deeply rooted social hierarchies. However, universal adult franchise proved to be a game-changer. It created a great leveling impact. Whether a voter is rich or poor, whether he or she is in the upper or lower levels of the traditional social order – it no longer makes any difference. Each vote carries equal value. Democratic elections have enabled the traditionally marginalized groups to take the democratic route towards empowerment. The process of democratization of castes has turned out to be the most significant social development of 20th century India. Both political parties and individual candidates have had to accept a policy of reconciliation rather than confrontation. The constitutional provision for reserving a specific number of seats for the Scheduled Castes and Tribes has given a minimum guarantee of participation in governance. On the ground, from the first election itself, this has worked wonders leveling the playing field, which has lead India to witness the growth of major leaders from the erstwhile marginalized sections, occupying key elected positions in many States of the country.
The Election Commission of India has emerged, over the last 61 years since the country’s independence from colonial rule, as one of its most respected institutions. India gained independence from British rule in 1947, together with a clutch of nations that shook off imperial yoke at about the same time; Pakistan (1947), Sri Lanka (1948) and Mynamar (1948). India gave itself a constitution in 1950, and on 25th January 1950, the Election Commission of India came into being.