How did Indians become voters first and Citizens later?

Democracy Nov 08, 2020

India has got a long political history, pre-colonial era, during the British era and specifically post-colonial era. India rose to newer forms of Government with the dawn of 20th century and has been modifying its governance, forms and characteristics in order to become world’s one the most powerful Democratic country. Now, India is not only a Democratic country but a Republican country as well.

India historically was never governed centrally. With few exceptions of Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire, India has never been under unified rule. And then came British, who controlled India within all its corners and set an example of ‘unified political rule’.

Under the British, the 1935 Government of India Act with its expanded electorate, the election franchise never reached more than about 20% of the population, and was deeply, and undemocratically, hedged about with property and literacy qualifications and further fragmented into separate communal constituencies. After India ‘won’ its independence in 1947, it was time to have a form of government that has never been historically present and practiced in India before, the form of Government that did not make India another Germany, China or even Russia. With the Western Education being the base of this newly emerged Nationalism, Indian politicians such as Nehru, Gandhi and Ambedkar mutually agreed to have Representative Democracy.

Now, the only question was how can India transform into a Democratic country smoothly and efficiently? With almost 552 princely states yet to become a part of India and looming danger of partition, India did not wait to have the first election and for the purpose the list of voters was created, which is said to be the largest in the Democratic world’s history till date with more than 170 million voters on the electoral roll!

Indians unlike others in Democratic nations, became ‘Voters’ first and then the ‘citizens.’ The criteria for registration on the roll were simple. A person had to be a citizen, and to reside in the place of registration for a minimum of 180 days. But the question “who is an Indian”, “who was a citizen at the time” were undecided. There were only draft constitutional provisions for citizenship. Additionally, there were refugees in many other parts of the country, including in the princely states. The solution for their registration was made on an all-India basis. In order to include them on the roll, they were registered at the time on the basis of the declaration by them that they intended to reside permanently in the place where they were registered.

The word ‘Democracy’ is not the same along the globe and neither is the type of Government it represents. It can be a Representative Democracy, Direct Democracy, Electronic Democracy and even Deliberative Democracy. Over the years, when India was trying not to become a Dominant-Partied Democracy like China or Presidential Democracy like USA, it has indirectly become only Electoral Democracy which is practiced through the right to vote. And thus now, India is in danger of becoming an “election-only democracy.” Once a party has won an election, it is unaccountable for its acts. Parliament barely functions. Large sections of the media are scared or co-opted. The judiciary is overburdened and dysfunctional. And along the lines, the actual representation intended through ‘Real Democracy’ is lost. This is because, Democracy is run by the voters and voters in turn are by the political parties. Thus, if a person fails to meet the criteria of voting and has no accurate paperwork, even Adhaar Card can’t help him/her to be a part of Democracy today! And this helpless situation has arised from hundreds and thousands of alterations made in the criteria of who is the voter and thus a part of Democracy.

This article has been written by Radha Parvate for The Paradigm

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