When voters turn loyal during ‘Festival of Democracy,’ elections can take a vacation


Whoever coined the cliché that elections are a party for democracy must cringe every time it happens again. Especially when taken literally. Like the political parties in Punjab who wrote to the Electoral Commission asking for the Vidhan Sabha elections to be postponed because their constituents, they believed, would leave for Varanasi for Guru Ravidas Jayanti. Or a group in Manipur that wants the elections moved to a Sunday because the community has to attend mass at the church.

In a country where politicians regularly invoke religion to win votes, this is not surprising. In a way, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, predicted this when he said that Free India would redeem its pledge, not entirely or to the full extent, but very substantially. Translation: you can disturb voters any day except a holiday.

He couldn’t have imagined the vacation skyrocketing to the number we have now. The list of central government holidays announced for 2022 by the Department of Personnel and Training has 14 compulsory holidays plus three optional holidays out of 12. Add 52 weekends and you get the table.

India is a functioning democracy, yes, except when she is on vacation.

So whether it is Durga Puja in West Bengal or Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra, woe betide the official who tries to turn the devotee into the voter, especially when politicians are bent on turning the voters into worshipers (of themselves and their gods).

Former Election Commissioner SY Quraishi sees nothing wrong with altering the festival schedule, saying the convenience of voters is the primary consideration. “If something is reported later, it can be accommodated if it doesn’t disrupt the schedule, especially the end date,” he says.

In West Bengal, Durga Puja has long been a bone of contention between political parties, with the BJP accusing TMC of politicizing the puja pandals. But remember that even the Marxists had adopted the pandals, transforming the celebrations from purely religious to essentially cultural, which even UNESCO has now recognized by giving the Durga Puja of Kolkata the status of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

In Maharashtra, Bal Gangadhar Tilak recognized the celebration of Ganesh Chathurthi as a means of political activism to fight against the colonial ban on public gatherings. Politics and religion have been intertwined for longer than you might think.

Pankaj Tripathi’s paramilitary officer in charge of voting in the 2017 film Newton said it well when he described the scrutineers as a ramlila mandli (troupe) in elections which are clearly displayed as a theater of the absurd.

Sukumar Sen, India’s first Election Commissioner, may have been right when he described the first general election as “the greatest experiment in democracy in human history”. Or perhaps the well-respected editor of the Tamil daily Swadesamitran, CR Srinivasan, was right to dismiss “the whole adventure” (as in elections) as the “biggest gamble in history”. How could a nation, where only 15% of the population was literate, survive as a democracy based on the principle of universal adult suffrage?

Srinivasan was wrong, like many other doomsday prophets, by the 106 million people (out of the 176 million eligible to vote) who exercised their right guaranteed by Article 326 of the Constitution to elect 489 Lok Sabha MPs and 3,280 state members. Legislative assemblies.

The electoral process officially began on October 25, 1951 in a remote Buddhist village named Chini in what is now Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. The votes were first cast in this Himalayan state before the onset of winter when it would be made inaccessible due to heavy snowfall and bad weather. The rest of India voted in February and March 1952, in what historian Ramchandra Guha called a leap of faith. The first Lok Sabha was constituted on April 17, 1952.

Since then, we have had 17 general elections in a country of 1.2 billion people and around 900 million voters.

Which reminds me that this is the 70th anniversary of India’s first general election. Isn’t this yet another occasion to celebrate? Let the festivities begin.

The author is a veteran journalist and former editor of India Today magazine. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the position of this publication.

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