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Transformation of India from a Colony to Democracy

Transformation of India from a Colony to Democracy

Introduction Of Electoral Politics In India

  • After adoption of constitution on January 26, 1950, It was necessary to install the first democratically elected government of the country. The election commission of India was set up in January 1950 with a constitutional provision to conduct free and fair elections. Sukumar Sen became the first Chief Election Commissioner [then ECI was single member body, unlike today’s multi member body].
  • India has adopted universal adult franchise model of democracy where any person with prescribed condition of age, could vote without any form of discriminations. Election commission soon realized that it was an uphill task to conduct a free and fair election in a country of India’s size. Holding an election required delimitation or drawing the boundaries of electoral rolls. Election commission faced difficult situation.
  • Nearly 40 lakh woman registered themselves as wife or daughter of somebody rather registering themselves by their names. The election commission refused to accept these entries and ordered a revision if possible and deletion if necessary.

First General Election in India – [October 25, 1951]

  • The first General Elections of India started on 25th October 1951 and continued till 21st February 1952. It was a landslide victory for the Indian National Congress and Jawaharlal Nehru became India’s first democratically elected Prime Minister.
  • Preparing for the first general election was a huge exercise. No election on this scale had ever been conducted in the world before. At that time there were 17 crores eligible voters, who had to elect about 489 MPs of Lok Sabha and 3200 MLA of state assemblies. Only 15% of these eligible voters were literate. Hence Election Commission had sought some special method of voting, like the candidates were to be identified by symbols, assigned to each major party and independent candidates, painted on the ballot papers in the box assigned to a particular candidate and ballot was secret.
  • Over 224000 polling booths, one for almost every 1000 voters were constructed and equipped with over 2.5 million steel ballot boxes one box for every candidate. Nearly 620,000,000 ballot papers were printed. Whoever got the plurality or the largest number of votes would get elected.
  • In all, candidates of over fourteen national and sixty three regional or local parties and a large number of independents contested the elections. Nearly 17500 candidates in all stood for the seats to the Lok Sabha and the state legislatures. The elections were spread out over nearly four months from Oct 25, 1951 to Feb 21, 1952 [Later this period was reduced to nineteen days in 1957 and 07 to 10 days in subsequent elections.]
  • After 1952, during the Nehru years, two other general elections were held for the Lok Sabha and state assembles in 1957 & 1962. Voter’s turnout improved in 1957 to 47% and in 1962 to 54%. In both the elections, the congress again emerged as a single largest party and formed government at the centre and at states level. However, In 1957, the communist were able to form a government in Kerala, which was the first democratically elects communist government anywhere in the world.
  • The fair and peaceful conduct of the polls was an indication that the democratic system and institutions, a legacy of the national movement were beginning to take root. The successful conduct of the polls was one of the reasons why India and Nehru, came to be admired abroad, especially in the ex-colonial countries. Political leadership used elections both to promote national consolidation and to legitimize its policies of integration. Ashok Mehta said, “The parliament acted as a great unifier of the nation”.

Rise of Congress System [Transformation of India from a Colony to Democracy]

  • Indian National Congress, byname Congress Party, broadly based political party of India. Formed in 1885, the Indian National Congress dominated the Indian movement for independence from Great Britain. It subsequently formed most of India’s governments from the time of independence and often had a strong presence in many state governments.
  • From 1951 until his death in 1964, Jawaharlal Nehru dominated the Congress Party, which won overwhelming victories in the elections of 1951–52, 1957, and 1962. The party united in 1964 to elect Lal Bahadur Shastri and in 1966 Indira Gandhi (Nehru’s daughter) to the posts of party leader and thus prime minister. In 1967, however, Indira Gandhi faced open revolt within the party, and in 1969 she was expelled from the party by a group called the “Syndicate.” Nevertheless, her New Congress Party scored a landslide victory in the 1971 elections, and for a period it was unclear which party was the true rightful heir of the Indian National Congress label.
  • In the initial three general elections, the congress gained overwhelming majority. The congress won three out of every four seats but it did not manage to win half the total votes polled. In 1952, for example the congress obtains 45% of the total votes, but it manages to win 74% of the seats. In the first general elections, out of 489 seats of Lok Sabha, the congress had won 364 seats. In the next two general elections of 1957 and 1962 respectively, it had secured 371 and 361 seats out of total 494. It had also formed government at the state level throughout the country except few occasions.

Congress Domination In India [Transformation of India from a Colony to Democracy]

  • The congress had reached the fruits of their diligent labor of their freedom struggle movement in ensuring post independence general elections. It had inherited the legacy of Indian National Congress Movements and their stalwart leaders. So, by default, due to their strong organizational network of freedom movement, throughout the country, it reached out to the masses instantly and connected with masses well. It was puerile to imagine other political parties organizing themselves in such a short time and achieving the faith of the masses.
  • During the freedom struggle movement, INC adopted inclusive approach and accepted membership of all strata of the society. After independence, the congress maintained the same characteristics. The congress also remained sensitive to and functioned as the medium for the reconciliation, accommodation and adjustment of the diverse and divergent class, sectional and regional interests. The congress was an ideological coalition.
  • It accommodated the revolutionary and pacifist, conservative and radical, extremist and moderate and the right, left and all shades of the centre. The coalitional nature of the congress party tolerated and encouraged various factions and instead of being a weakness, internal factionalism became the strength of the congress. The system of factions functioned as balancing mechanism within the ruling party.
  • In the first decade of electoral competition, the congress acted both as the ruling party as well as the opposition.    (Transformation of India from a Colony to Democracy)
  • Hence, noted political scientist, Mr. Rajni Kothari termed this period of Indian Politics as “The Congress system”.

Opposition Parties: 1947 – 1964

  • Socialist Party
    This party was one of the most promising one and would have emerged as a suitable alternative to congress. Socialists were a part of the congress but in 1948 as Sardar Patel suggested having organizational cohesion by enforcing “One party membership” rule led to their deserting. Although majority of the socialists remained in the Congress but a few dynamic leaders chose to leave viz. Jayprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia. Even founder of congress socialist party Acharya Narayan Dev was against the split but chose to follow the Socialists.
  • The Socialist accused congress of dissociating from the Socialist policies and appeasing capitalists. Although socialists and communists left the Congress but Nehru had always been inclined towards socialism and wanted congress to become a “Left of the Center” party. He gradually tried to make this happen as any sudden movement would led to a split in ranks.     (Transformation of India from a Colony to Democracy)
  • Congress never lost its ideological policy of socialism and continued to strive for an egalitarian society. However the socialists tried to raise slogans against the congress and rile public opinion against it. This didn’t succeed and the socialists had to face loss at National and provincial elections. The popularity of the congress was still high. Socialists also saw a split in ranks and indiscipline within the party.

Bhartiya Jan Sangh (BJS)

  • BJS was formed in 1951 by Shyama Prasad Mukharjee and trace its roots with R.S.S (Rashtriya Sawyamsevek Singh) and the Hindu Mahasabha before independence.
  • The BJS emphasised the idea of one country, one culture and one notion and believes that the country could become modern, progressive and strong on the basis of Indian culture and traditions.
  • BJS leaders were Shyama Prasad Mukharjee, Deen Dayal Upadhayaya (He initiated the concept of integral humanism), and Balraj Madhok. (Transformation of India from a Colony to Democracy)
  • BJS performed very party in almost all the Lok Sabha Election.
  • In the contemporary times, the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) traces its roots to B.J.S

Communist Party

  • Communists were a part of the Congress but later developments led to a split. One of the reasons was that Support should be given by India to British in WWII as the Soviet Union was attacked. Congress however disagreed and so Communists didn’t support the Quit India. They also attacked the ideology of the Congress calling it a bourgeois party. It refused to accept Indian independence and called the Constituent assembly an imperial tool and the constitution a sham. It went on an armed struggle against the congress as it wanted to remove congress claiming it as a party of the capitalists. This view was also supported by Soviet Union.
  • Subsequent to violent acts of CPI it was banned and also lost its popular base. It also suffered from problems like cadre indiscipline and lack of great leaders. CPI soon decided to change its tactics and contest elections to defeat the congress using constitutional means. Supported by Nehru who lifted the ban on it, CPI emerged as a major force in the opposition. It had gained support in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and succeeded in forming a government in Kerela [first democratically elected communist government in the world].
  • However this victory was short-lived. Like the Socialists the CPI faced a split and a radical CPI (Marxists) emerged that targeted congress. Cadre indiscipline and defections also affected the party. It gave alarmist propaganda of the decline economic conditions, class conditions deteriorating and people getting disillusioned by the congress repeatedly at every public platform. But this was without any in-depth analysis. More importantly the party couldn’t present a national agenda of its own or economic planning for the nation. Most of its ideology was targeted at the congress and like the socialists it too underestimated the congresses popularity with the masses. CPI also failed to realize that social channels could be brought only by parliamentary institutions. (Transformation of India from a Colony to Democracy)
  • All this led to Communists becoming irrelevant soon at the national stage and the rise of communal and casteist parties.

Swatantra Party  [Transformation of India from a Colony to Democracy]

  • The swatantra party was formed in August 1959 after Nagpur resolution of the congress which called for land ceilings, takeover of food grain trade by the state, adoption of cooperative forming. They didn’t believe this resolution.(Transformation of India from a Colony to Democracy)
  • The party believed lesser involvement of the government in economy. It opposed the development strategy of state intervention in economy, central planning, nationalization, Public sector. They opposed progressive tax regime, demanded dismantling of license Raj. It was critical of non-alignment policy and friendly relations of India with the Soviet Union and advocated closer ties with the U.S.A.
  • The industrialist and big landlords had supported this party.
  • This party has a very limited influence, lacked dedicated cadres, so it didn’t perform well.
  • The stalwart of party were C. Rajagopalachari, K.M. Munshi, N.G. Ranga and Minoo Masani.



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