2014 was a landmark year as far as the system of general elections in India was concerned. The very essence of coalitional politics had become so besmirched, with alliances between political parties disintegrating left and right, that this year India voted in a majority government in the hopes that things will change for the better. Breaking with the tradition of low voting patterns, India totalled a record 66.4% voter turnout in the 2014 General Elections. Not to be outdone, in the recently-held 2015 Delhi Assembly elections, the Aam Aadmi Party totalled a record 67/70 seats in the Assembly, entirely wiping out the Indian National Congress from the scene and reducing the Bharatiya Janata Party to a mere 3 seats.
This trend seems to reflect the growing realisation among the masses of the importance of stability in government. Coalitional politics in the last few decades had rendered the functioning of the government nigh on impossible with disruptions and walk outs being staged every day, in every Parliament session. By voting in a party with an absolute majority, it seems that the government now has a chance to implement its programmes without too much opposition, although in a democracy that can signal the danger of bull-dozing tactics by the party in power.
Frustration with the incompetence of the former incumbent government and increasing political awareness were the other major factors in catalysing this situation. The Congress, for the most part, had created a self-sustaining image of corruption and bad governance for itself. Anarchy, disorder, indecisiveness and an unfortunate tendency to keep Party interests over the Nation’s had come to characterise the UPA- II. Their choice of cabinet ministers too did not inspire confidence. The fact that they hadn’t announced their Prime Ministerial candidate before the elections or, for that matter, even after them, showed their lack of faith and hesitation to take the leap.
This lack of faith was not lost out on the mass electorate who voted in the BJP in the hopes of a more stable and ethical government. Indians have gradually accustomed themselves to the idea that they too wield an enormous amount of power in politics when it comes to choosing their representatives. By and large, they are exercising this right to vote because they want their voice to be heard within the narrow political structure, without actively joining any political party.
Universal adult franchise is a concept wherein all citizens are allowed to vote, sometimes subject to certain restrictions of age, mental soundness etc. Viewing its historicity however, brings out an entirely different picture of the right to vote and shows it was not always so. Initially, in modern democracies over the world, this right was granted solely to propertied, white, adult males which meant a very small demographic was the only one allowed to partake in the national democratic processes.
It was only in 1792, in the French First Republic that the requirement of property was abolished and all white, adult males were allowed to register their votes, thereby widening the electorate to a slight extent. Gradually, through the processes of historical development, the idea of universal adult franchise came about with New Zealand becoming the first one to grant all its adult citizens full and equal voting rights in 1893.
Keeping context in mind, India granted full voting rights to all its adult citizens in 1950 with the enforcement of the Constitution, under article 326. This article explicates the concept of universal adult franchise in India, which is the right of any adult aged 18 and over to vote for anyone they so choose in an election to the Legislatives Assemblies of states and the House of the People, subject to certain restrictions as that of non-citizenship, unsoundness of mind and criminal background or tainted with corruption.
The right to vote has now come to symbolise a citizen’s voice in this country; it represents the fact that this right, once hard fought for, can now be exercised by any citizen who fulfils the basic pre-requisites of majority and citizenship in India. It holds power not just as a right, but as a symbol; a symbol that the most common of persons has a right to decide who makes policy decisions for the country which end up affecting him in the end. It is the foundation of all political liberty, that those who obey and are affected by the law have a stake in deciding who makes the law.
In this age of information, with everything available to the people at their fingertips at any given moment, they have the full capacity to determine which ideology they conform to. In India, elections were mostly based on ideological bent, although with changing times and context, electoral discourse is now being shaped by factors such as progress and economic development, with ideals taking a backseat. Political parties will keep morphing themselves in order to change with the times, but their core ideology remains the same.
Given all this power, information and history rife with struggle for the right to exercise this suffrage, one would presume that people take an interest in the functioning of their country. It’s not just about it being a civic duty or a morally enforced obligation; there are a million reasons why one can vote, one should vote but none why one has to. There is no criminal or civil liability forced upon those who wish to consciously disenfranchise themselves. But this practice can carry with itself the intrinsic danger of apathic governance; merits usually take a backseat in a scenario where only those who have a stake in government engage their followers to vote for them.
Therefore, it is my firm belief that one should vote to usher in change. Vote because you feel that you too have a voice in the affairs of this country. Vote because it is a privilege to exercise this right. Vote not because it is a civic duty, but because you realise that it was a culmination of decades of struggle that allows you to exercise your franchise.
Vote to make a difference.
About the Author
Shuchita is pursuing her B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) degree from National Law University, Delhi and is currently in her first year. She likes reading books dealing with Indian history and politics. To further her love for writing, she manages a bloghere. She is currently interning at the National Commission for Women and Model Governance Foundation.