Musings on Elections
A villager looking for Party Symbol in the first ever Indian General Elections in 1952
The Pandemic is not going anywhere yet. It appears to have been vaccinated against Pfizers, Modernas, Sputniks, Astra Zenicas, Covid Shields and Covaxins. The multiple variants as the British, Brazilian, African et al are upon us. Maharashtra, for a start, is on Lockdown again. Delhi has gone into night curfew. Déjà Vu so quickly? Or Vuja De (new looks familiar – as Prof. Adam Grant, the Stanford Organisational Psychologist said in his ‘Originals’). Despite these disruptions, we are in the midst state assembly elections. And, of course, POTUS elections went smoothly on Nov. 3, 2020, In the United States of America, with the highest ever turn out. That smells and sells democracy to the world. From the oldest and the largest.
On April 6, 2021, Tamil Nadu and Kerala had its single phase assembly elections and they were ‘largely peaceful’ as the journalists say. It was true. On Jan, 6, 2021, the US of A celebrated its insurrection, only the second, since the 1840 Pandemic variant, when the “Capitol Hill’ was invaded by an army of Donald J Trump ‘cultists’. What a refreshing variant we had or have.
Where am I heading with this Preamble of sorts? Where else? Musings on Elections. The Pandemic is back upon you. You can innoculate yourself with ease, with just one dose, and two not needed, by resort to ‘Delete’. You hold all the aces against this viral variant.
With two publications in my belt – Constitution- Its Making- Musings, Anecdotes and Episodes, OakBridge, 2020 and Sam Manekshaw’s Beloved Armed Forces, Kalaimagal Publications, 2021, and a third one due in peak summer, in Courtroom Drama – True & Anecdotal, OakBridge, hope springs eternal for Dil Mange More.
As providence would have it, while the Grand Old Party a.k.a. the Republican Party having lost the elections to Joe Biden and Senate races in southern state of Georgia- landing Democrats with the White House, Senate and House of Representatives- a lethal combination, GOP is hitting back with a vengeance by ‘seeking to disenfranchise the coloured voters’.
While in India, the EVM holds sway- Every Vote Matters as our Election Commission of India urges for 100% voting – in the US, for the Republicans, it is EVM too. Every (white) Vote Matters. There is a concerted effort at Voter Suppression with over 250 laws proposed by GOPians in 43 out of 50 states. What the hell is happening ? Don’t they have an autonomous Election Commission? Would not SCOTUS intervene to strike down such brazenly partisan and skewed legislations? Why should corporates as Coca Cola and Delta Airlines, based in Georgia take up the cause against such draconian and bigoted initiatives? Why should All Star Baseball match be moved out of Georgia, to put pressure on GOP legislators? All fascinating facts.
Of course, we have our own nuggets and vignettes, from our elections, electoral rolls, and plenary powers of our Election Commission of India (ECI). On 7th Oct, 1949, Bapu Rajendra Prasad, independent India’s first President said during the Constituent Assembly proceedings, “I was myself calculating one day thickness of the volume of the electoral roll for all the Provinces and I found that it will come to nearly three fourths of a furlong (220 yards)”
Ten times a cricketing pitch, to pitch it better, to a cricket crazy nation. And on 18th November, 1949, Laxmi Kanta Maitra, responded in the Constituent Assembly, “Is it realised that you have drawn up a Constitution for 340 million of us? Look at the magnitude of the size of your State and its people. Has it any parallel in the world? Has any other country, and other states in the world got such a multiplicity of problems, of such complexity and diversity as we have got”.
How many of us know that the preparation of the Electoral Rolls in India, began, even before the Constitution was adopted and citizenship rights and rules were framed? K V Padmanabhan, Under Secretary to Constituent Assembly Secretariat said on 18th Oct, 1947, “It is suggested that we should initiate the preparations of Electoral rolls as a separate operation and address the Provincial Governments in the matter”. And B N Rau, the scholar consultant to our Constitution added, “I should then like the Under Secretary to prepare a plan for India”.
This course, was not smooth sailing. Several members of the Constituent Assembly protested that “We cannot be seen to be preparing the Electoral rolls even before the citizen rights were decided and even as Partition was causing large scale disruption in lives and critically, residences”. Jawaharlal Nehru mollified them saying, “I assure all the members and through you the nation that now that we are all one, to agree on Adult Suffrage with little or no dissent, for as large a country as ours, that all citizens, as accorded such status, by our Constitution to be, would get the right to exercise their franchise in the first general elections itself. That is why there is the need for us to indulge in the preparation of the Electoral rolls, even as we are debating the making of our Constitution”
Once tallied, the total number of voters came to an estimate of more than 17 crores or 170 million voters. We also have ‘plenary powers’ being vested in our Election Commission, as an autonomous body and then the single member head, morphing into a three member one, thanks to the ‘proactive public interest ways of my good friend Thirunellai Narayana Iyer Seshan’ as Justice Vaidyatha Rama Iyer Krishna Iyer put it.
It is a mouth watering journey with an umbilical constitutional connect. Can one ask for more? Those who may care to join, are welcome. No hard feelings, if any/many choose to stand on the platform, to let the Musings on Elections’ Express pass by, as not worth their while.
(Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)