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Election Commission and Functioning of Democracy

The Election Commission of India is emerging as the fourth important institutional arrangement, the other three being the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. It has also been voted by the people in a countrywide poll as the most trusted of all institutions. But the EC needs to formulate a conscious policy towards democratisation and rule-enforcement if it has to become the means to the end of a fair and vibrant representative democracy.


Election Commission and Functioning of Democracy

The Election Commission of India is emerging as the fourthimportant institutional arrangement, the other three being theexecutive, the legislature and the judiciary. It has also beenvoted by the people in a countrywide poll as the most trusted ofall institutions. But the EC needs to formulate a conscious policy towards democratisation and rule-enforcement if it hasto become the means to the end of a fair and vibrant

representative democracy.


his article takes a look at the Election Commission of India (henceforth, the EC) to assess the importance of this constitutional institution in the larger process of democratisation in India. Two arguments are presented, one, that the EC is emerging as a fourth important institutional arrangement, the other three being the executive, the legislature and the judiciary, in what can be called the separation of power schema of the Indian political system; and, two, that the EC has to be empathetic towards the nuances of the democratic upsurge in India while channelising these growing democratic aspirations into a more rule-bound way of working. This is important for further institutionalisation of democratic norms and a smooth functioning of democracy in the approaching times.

The enhanced role of the EC has much to do with the rise of alliance politics and coalition rule in India. The emergence of coalitional politics itself is a corollary, to a large extent, of the acquisition of political expressions by marginalised communities. These communities or groups, primarily defined by jati/occupation, are becoming politically assertive. They are organising themselves either as political parties or as influential local groups possessing a decisive edge in electoral politics. This democratisation, happening in quite a random and jumbled way, has segmented the one party dominant system and led to the emergence of multiparty regimes. This is where the role of institutions like the EC has acquired unprecedented importance. The EC has to ensure that in the rush for attaining power, newly politicised groups do not trample upon democratic norms. However, in doing this the EC also has to see that it does not become a force that clamps down on democratisation.


The conduct of elections in India after independence became the responsibility of the Election Commission. It was in 1950 that the Election Commission of India was set up as a constitutional body and entrusted with the task of superintendence, direction and control of all national and state level elections.1 It was also given the work of preparation and revision of electoral rolls. The Constitution has provision for a single EC to manage elections for both Parliament and the state legislatures. There was much discussion in the Constituent Assembly regarding the setting up of a single body to handle elections at both the levels. Some members of the Constituent Assembly saw this as a move towards an uncalled for centralisation, but the proposal was carried forth.2

The EC has “considerable autonomy of action” as it “derives its authority directly from the Constitution” [Singh 2004:10]. To enable the EC to work in a reasonably autonomous manner without undue interference from the government, a provision was made that “the chief election commissioner shall not be removed from his office except in like manner and on the like grounds as a judge of the Supreme Court”, and that his conditions of service would not be altered to his disadvantage after he took over as the chief election commissioner (Article 324: Clause 5).3 The EC was also vested with residuary powers by the Supreme Court to take decisions on its own on issues where the enacted laws were silent or the provisions were inadequate to handle any electoral matter.

Provisions were incorporated in the Constitution that Parliament would, from time to time, make laws that would help the EC in conducting elections. Two major laws were framed just after India became a republic – these were the Representation of the People Act, 1950, and the Representation of the People Act, 1951. The first deals with the allocation of seats, the delimitation of parliamentary and assembly constituencies, the preparation and revision of electoral rolls, etc. The second contains provisions on all aspects of conduct of elections and post-election disputes.4 Changes have been carried out in these laws over the years.

Deepening of Democracy

In India as politicisation is growing or as democracy is deepening, the need for institutional protection of democratic norms has not declined, but, on the other hand, has assumed crucial importance. To understand why, one has to look at the nature of politicisation and also see who is getting politicised. In India, primordial politicisation is way ahead of any other kind of politicisation (say class or gender). What this means is that people are getting politicised as members of primordial communities – religious, sectoral, caste and jati – and entering political and administrative offices as members of these communities. Incidentally, a large section of women who are entering the political arena are also entering it as members of “a community” (primordial that is) rather than as “women” or as “individuals”.5 So, people who previously were outside the public arena are entering it in big numbers but not as self-conscious “atomised” individuals or even as members of a “class”, but they have been mobilised as parts of primordial communities and are becoming part of public life as members of these communities or social groups. They are coming into political life as mochis, malas, madigas, yadavs, julahas, dhobis, kasais, etc, and neither as socially or economically underprivileged individuals nor even as members of an exploited/oppressed

Economic and Political Weekly April 29, 2006 class. In one sense, it can also be argued that communities are coming into public life as political individuals, unified as individual-beings in relation to the “others”, and entering into a political contest to assert their place in the social and national hierarchies.

Here, what also needs to be said is that the primordial communities that are coming into the public arena are also the communities which have lacked prior assets. It is those social groups who have lived their lives in the most inhuman and debased circumstances, who stand as socially and economically discriminated for much of known history that are asserting themselves in democratic politics. They have lived a life bereft of dignity, social status or political organisation. They have lacked the ownership of any productive resources except for the small household implements and artisan-skills which make only for tiny-scale production. And, they have not had opportunities of personal accomplishment and achievements which bring some level of personal confidence. In other words, these are those social groups who have been the objects of social humiliation and their lives have been devoid of social dignity, apart from having faced extreme economic hardship. Also, opportunities of socio-economic mobility were closed to them through rigid caste rules.

It is these deprived and underprivileged social groups who are finding a political voice and entering the public arena through the opportunities provided by the working of the democratic processes in India. Democracy has brought to them a sense of self-worth and self-dignity. It has given them a voice of assertiveness. Or, in other words, the functioning of democracy in India over the years has led to a “loosening of social strictures” and has led to “an assertion of the urge for more self-respect and the ability to better oneself” [Alam 2004:22]. An inward orientation, an urge for self-fulfilment is imbuing these social groups or communities placed in the democratic political processes. What is also coming with this is a widespread sense of competition for socio-political accomplishments. This competition, this want for self-fulfilment or self-orientation might not always be articulated in what one might call a sophisticated or polished style. As Alam (2004) argues it might be and often is devoid of “cultured” verbal qualities and accompanied by unruly mannerisms making the process “untidy”.

Also, this competition for fulfilment is combined with social tensions and animosities. The object of self-fulfilment or the struggle for self-worth is not always accompanied by the goal of justice for all. “Rather that struggle can express itself as much through a competitive debasement of others as it can in a demand for reciprocity and mutual recognition” [Mehta 2003:45]. This inwardness and consequent feelings of belligerence towards the other, exist not only at the level of social hierarchy but also on horizontal social levels, which can turn the political terrain literally into a battlefield, a terrain where the norms of deliberative and negotiatory practices as ways of solving problems might completely break down. This violent “other-directed” attitude might lead to a depoliticisation of each other. The public arena might turn into a space where violence, whipping up of hatred (against the other) and nepotism (seen as a positive value, where you have to support your community compatriot to find a foothold in the hostile world) might be seen as perfectly legitimate ways of self-fulfilment.

It is here that institutions and institutional safeguards come into the picture and have to play a role to fortify democratic norms. The EC has to ensure that electoral processes do not get clogged by malpractices. It has to see that social hatred – religious or caste – is not whipped up to win elections. It has to ensure that criminalisation is not resorted to for defeating political opponents. It has to implement the electoral rules firmly and ensure a disciplined adherence to norms. It has to ensure that elections take place in a non-coercive and fair manner in an environment where democratic aspirations are growing at a fast pace and there is a need that democratic norms keep pace with them.

However, the EC also has to be sensitive towards this democratisation that is taking place. It has to be patient with the brash and unruly ways of today’s politics. It has to approach the problem more politically than administratively and take into account the specificities of the Indian case rather than viewing things from the perspective of European democracy. The brazen ways of Seshan or the contemptuous approaches of Lyngdoh are perhaps not the best ways of handling a polity whose nature is undergoing such a multilayered transition. I must mention two instances here to clarify my point, one, Seshan’s stubborn insistence on voter identity cards within deadlines to the entire Indian electorate, and two, Lyngdoh’s equally stubborn opinion that politicians are a “cancer” for which “there was no cure at the moment”. Both these chief election commissioners tried to bring about some adherence to norms (for instance, Seshan’s attempts to enforce spending limits and Lyngdoh’s commendable efforts in Kashmir and Gujarat elections in 2002), but with attitudes of utter contempt towards the political class as well as the masses. Their ways seem to reflect a lack of understanding about the churnings which are going on in Indian democracy – the entry of the underprivileged into both electoral processes and public institutions.

Most Trusted Institution

The EC has been termed as “the means to the end of a vibrant representative democracy” [DeSouza 1998:53] and as a “bulwark for free and fair elections in India” [Rudolph and Rudolph 2001:154]. In a countrywide poll conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) (Delhi) in 1996, after the 11th general elections, the EC stood as the institution which was trusted most by the people followed by the judiciary, the state government, local self-government and so on, in that order [for details see DeSouza 1998 and Alam 2004]. In subsequent CSDS polls also, the EC continued to occupy this high status. A look at the role of the EC in the 1990s suggests that “the strengthening of its regulatory role has coincided with the period during which confidence in cabinet and Parliament, the instruments of developmental, interventionist state, has eroded” [Rudolph and Rudolph 2001:161].

What is to be noted here is that institutions which are non-elected or not constituted through an electoral mandate, enjoy a higher level of confidence among the voters than those in whose formation the voters enjoy an electoral choice (where the people are actually voters) like the Parliament or the legislatures. In other words, people are more satisfied with the working of the institutions in whose making they are not exercising a choice (at least, not directly) than those political institutions where they are exercising a choice. An explanation of this is that successive governments have failed to solve “the problems of livelihood – work, food, shelter, health – suffered singly or collectively by the people” [Alam 2004:20]. The unfulfilled promises of the political leadership are in popular perception, a case of gross neglect of the primary responsibility of the leadership and that’s why the distrust. This argument explains why people distrust the political leadership, but does not explain the high levels of trust in constitutional institutions like the EC. An

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answer to this can be that in popular perception, the EC is fulfilling in a commendable manner, its prime responsibility of the smooth conduct of elections, and thus is worthy of high trust. Also, the EC like the bureaucracy and the police comes into close contact with the people, but unlike the bureaucracy and the police (these two are the last on the poll’s list of levels of popular trust in institutions), has not been a harsh and bullying institution. Also, like the police, the bureaucracy and the elected governments, the EC has not come across as exercising arbitrary power. It is a constitutional institution which is rule-oriented and not one given to arbitrariness. Hence, people find it trustworthy and not loathsome as they find the others, especially the police and the bureaucracy.

The CSDS poll’s findings were that a large number of people regarded elections as important in making the system work. The poll also found that it is the mass of the poor, the underprivileged and the socially and educationally backward who come out in large numbers to vote as compared to the highly educated, urban populace and the upper castes who constitute a larger share of non-voters [Mitra and Singh 1999:101]. The low participation among these sections has been attributed to “a streak of apathy” and “low voting participation in their womenfolk” [Mitra and Singh 1999:101]. Commenting upon this sectional difference in voting, a former chief election commissioner, says, “Today, if the middle class is unhappy with various aspects of our politics, I am not moved. I believe in the democracy we run. It is the poor, underprivileged people out there who show more faith in the system, despite all the battering they get. They turn out in large numbers during elections in the belief that the people and parties they elect will give them a better programme, a better life. The middle classes turn up in fewer numbers to vote. They are cynical and while they freely criticise, I am not sure how committed they are” [Gill 2001].6 This somewhat explains the differentials in voting. The underprivileged despite being unhappy with the political leadership still come out in large numbers, election after election, to exercise their electoral choice – hoping for some promises to be fulfilled, some livelihood issues to be taken up and above all, to get their aspirations of equal worth recognised. This public support for the EC and enhancement in electoral participation needs to be reciprocated by the EC by becoming more politically understanding of the structural changes in Indian polity that are being initiated by the people who actually use the services of the EC.

Enhanced Role of EC

The EC’s role has enhanced regarding its customary task of preparation and conduct of elections. The size of the electorate which was 17.32 crore in 1951 went up to

67.15 crore in 2004 [The Election Commission of India website]. The voting percentage which was 44.87 during the first general elections went up to 63.56 in the eighth general elections (1984) and was 58.07 during the 14th general elections (2004). The number of political parties contesting elections has gone up by four times from the first general elections. Also, the number of those who feel that their vote has an effect on the political state of affairs of the country has gone up to 58.6 per cent in 1996 from 48.5 per cent in 1971 [Mitra and Singh 1999:140-41]. This indicates that elections are held in high esteem by the electorate. The smooth functioning of democracy in such a situation necessitates a steady and efficient working of the electoral machinery, especially in these times when democracy no longer is a middle class phenomenon, but is acquiring a mass nature in both the senses – a change in the social composition of the electorate and deeper levels of public involvement in public institutions.

The EC has to oversee not merely the voting process but has to perform tasks which, if left unattended to, would make a mockery of the entire democratic process in India, especially in a situation of greater politicisation, which, as discussed earlier, is largely happening among the socially and economically underprivileged communities. It has to ensure that certain norms and rules are adhered to for making the functioning of democracy effective, that democratic values become enhanced along with the growing democratic competition for political assets. In this capacity the EC has to check ruling party/parties excesses and arbitrariness before and during elections and as such prevent the abuse of power by them. It also has to impress upon the executive to maintain or improve law and order in the regions going to polls. It has to see that the voice of the political minority or political opposition and even the ordinary people is not stifled in the matter of conduct of elections. It has to arbitrate between the central and state governments as also between political parties on matters that have implications for elections. It also has to see that the model code of conduct is followed by all the political parties. A few instances can illustrate how the EC has played this role recently.

The EC’s role during the Kashmir elections in September 2002 is noteworthy. At the request of the electorate and the opposition parties it undertook some steps that ensured that people’s difficulties in taking part in the electoral process were minimised. In the 1996 elections in Kashmir, the polling stations were clubbed which had been a cause of inconvenience to the voters. The EC decided to undo this in the 2002 elections. In 2002, the polling stations were installed on the basis of the list approved in 1988. This added 900 additional locations. The effort of the EC was that the voters do not have to travel more than two km to reach their polling station. The EC also provided that Kashmiri migrant voters living in Delhi and Jammu could vote through the electronic voting machines (the problem in the earlier election was that many postal votes did not reach the returning officers on time causing them to become invalid). Notified voters living elsewhere had the option to vote by post as earlier. Electoral rolls of all the 87 assembly constituencies in the state were computerised in Urdu and copies of the same were distributed. As a one time measure, the EC also conceded the request of registered unrecognised political parties who have a legislative presence (at least one member in the legislative assembly) to be provided with one copy of the electoral roll free of cost.7 In usual practice only recognised parties are provided an electoral roll free of cost. Also, at state cost, the EC decided that one leader of each recognised national and state party (in opposition) in Jammu and Kashmir was to be provided with ecurity cover and reasonable security was to be provided to opposition party leaders for them to carry on their election campaigns.

Another instance of the EC’s openness to the opinion of the opposition and the ordinary electorate is the Gujarat case. In 2002, after the pogroms against the Muslims in Gujarat, opposition groups, Muslim leaders and many non-governmental organisations made known to the EC their opposition to the Gujarat government’s stand for early elections in Gujarat. The government wanted that elections be held before October 2002. The opposition demanded that they be postponed and electoral rolls be thoroughly revised in the post-riot situation [Dasgupta 2002]. The grounds on which these groups opposed early polls were that the state had not yet recovered from the ruthless anti-Muslim violence of February-April 2002. Holding assembly elections in these conditions of turmoil in the state was not fair, especially, in the context of a large number

Economic and Political Weekly April 29, 2006 of missing or displaced people. The EC after thoroughly reviewing the situation was convinced and decided that elections in Gujarat could not be held before the end of November 2002.8

The EC has been firm on the violations of the model code of conduct. Maharashtra’s ruling Democratic Front (constituting the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party and other alliance partners) government’s efforts to lure farmers just before the 2004 Maharashtra assembly elections by a proposal to write off about Rs 100 crore as interest on loans taken by them, was stayed by the EC [Bavadam 2004:24]. Though this decision of loan waiver was taken before the announcement of the election schedule, the resolution to implement it was adopted after the announcement [Bavadam 2004:24]. The EC stayed the proposal as this was not in line with the model code of conduct for elections.

The EC during the 2004 Lok Sabha elections also took notice of the death of 22 people during the birthday celebrations of BJP’s Uttar Pradesh leader Lalji Tandon, where sarees were freely distributed leading to stampede deaths [Ramakrishnan 2005:133]. The EC sent a notice to the BJP for the violation of the code which was followed by a “reprimand”. Instances of violation of the code by the ruling party are several. Prior to the February 2004 assembly elections in Bihar, the RJD chief, railway minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, was seen on television channels on December 18, distributing cash to dalit women at Bihta village in Ibrahimpur near Patna [Ramakrishnan 2005:132]. The EC took notice of the reports and sought an answer from the party about why the party should not be derecognised over the episode. It held that Prasad was disregarding and failing to abide by the model code of conduct and “severely condemned” his actions [Ramakrishnan 2005:132].

For the smooth conduct of elections, a model code of conduct was formulated as an all party consensus to be adhered to by all parties and candidates contesting elections. It comes into effect from the time the election dates are announced by the EC. This began to be more strictly implemented during and after Seshan’s tenure. The EC has the power to suspend or withdraw recognition of a political party for its failure to abide by the model code of conduct or the directions of the EC. Though, violations occur at great regularity, the EC has rarely taken recourse to this power. It has issued warnings and reprimands and has stopped at that. This can be seen as a reasonable stance. The EC has been mature to highlight the violations, bring in pressure to rectify the excesses and firmly ask for explanations.

Derecognising a political party is an extreme form of chastisement which need not be resorted to. In a situation of transition of the polity, a measure like derecognition would have the effect of depoliticisation. It is more of a policing approach, which tries to deal with each problem as a “law and order” issue. This approach would have the effect of what I have earlier called the clamping down on democratisation. Moreover, it might not have the desired effect of chastising. On the other hand it might result in hardening of attitudes and further criminalisation. Rule-breaking has to be dealt with firmly. It has to be severely rebuked, but should not end up turning a contestant out of the game. Or, if the contestant is turned out, opportunities of re-entering the game should not be closed or made difficult for him/her. This is important for the present times when new political parties are entering the electoral arena and are in the process of getting familiar with the legal/institutional discourse – of what is lawful and what is unlawful. Turning them out of the electoral field amounts to taking away from them what they have painstakingly won – a political voice. It might even lead to the undesired effect of criminalisation of the new political incumbents, who might feel that if severe punitive action is what they have to face, then how does it matter if the illegal act is small or serious.

The EC’s own experience points out that in most cases, parties who have been found to be guilty of violating the model code of conduct have gone on the defensive when asked to explain their conduct. They have, though somewhat grudgingly, accepted the decisions of the EC. Rather than taking an offensive stance vis-a-vis the EC, they have tried to explain their actions and even rectify the problems. Take the last instance of the violation of the model code of conduct of elections cited by me. After being “severely reprimanded” by the EC, Laloo Prasad Yadav, the RJD president, claimed that his party had always respected the decisions of the commission and that they had never bribed anyone. While saying this, he not only cancelled the RJD rally in Bihar but also cancelled the inauguration of the newly constructed railway platforms at Patna and put off unveiling of the statue of a Kargil martyr from Bihar.

What this points towards is that the EC has balanced its regulatory role in such a way that the implementation of rules do not have the effect of depoliticisation of

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groups who are coming into public life. If the problems are of a serious nature, the institutions of the Parliament and courts are present to take care of them. These institutions can look into cases of serious breach of the Constitution. They can intervene, for instance, when there is tampering with the basic structure of the Constitution. The Parliament, after a thorough debate, can bring about amendments to existing laws and make new laws to safeguard democracy. The Supreme Court has the jurisdiction to settle disputes between the governments within the territory of India and also act as an advisory institution to settle ambiguities in law. There are several precedents where they have guided action in the past and can continue to do so. This can prove helpful to the EC to bring malpractices under check without resorting to derecognition of political parties.

A ‘Non-Committed’ Institution

To perform its tasks effectively the EC has to be politically non-affiliative. In fact, it was visualised to be a non-committed institution to conduct its task without attaching itself to or in any way being influenced by the political executive, much like the bureaucracy. Most of the members of the EC have been drawn from the bureaucracy, mainly the Indian Administrative Service and its predecessor the Indian Civil Service, as the job requires a fair amount of administrative experience. However, like the administrative services, the EC has to guard against the pulls and pressures of the political executive to avoid turning into a “committed bureaucracy”. The dangers of succumbing to political pressures are there – after all the appointments are political appointments. Also, bureaucracies have portrayed conservative attitudes and are generally seen to be averse to radical changes. There is, therefore, an inherent streak to view any socio-political change as threatening. The EC has to guard itself against falling prey to these two tendencies. It has to ensure that it does not become socially rigid or politically status quoist. It should be open to the structural transformations, which are coming about in India as a result of the working of democracy.

There have been attempts though, to tame the independent EC. The EC was not always a three-member body. It was a single-member commission up till October 15, 1989 with only RVS Peri Sastri, the chief election commissioner, as its member. Thereafter, it turned into a three-member body till January 1, 1990.9 There were problems between RVS Peri Sastri and the Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi. The result was the appointment of two additional members to the EC on the recommendations of the government. From January 2, 1990 to September 30, 1993, it again became a single-member commission. But, from October 1, 1993 it turned into a three-member body once more as a result of tensions between the EC and the central government. The chief election commissioner during that period was T N Seshan, known for his bulldozing style of working. Seshan’s pompousness and highly personalised style of working may not be unique, but it became a source of contention due to its timing. This style obstructed the surge of the discriminated into the political mainstream. Petty political reasons might be the immediate cause of the expansion of the EC, but the larger churnings made this expansion inevitable. It was a call for depersonalisation or democratisation of the EC itself. One of the ways to ensure that was through the appointment of additional commissioners. This was a way of preventing concentration of power in a single person and in fact, was needed to save a constitutional institution from turning into a mere extension of an individual’s whims. The EC has been a three-member body ever since.


The working and deepening of democracy in India has enhanced the role of the EC and has given it a position of importance almost at par with the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The EC, trusted by the electorate, has been so far, able to perform its enhanced role fairly well. Its performance shows that it has more or less encouraged the growth of democratic aspirations, despite the fact that the unfolding of these aspirations is happening in an “untidy” manner. It has also tried to ensure that democratic ambitions play themselves out in an environment of rules and norms where the underprivileged do not trample upon each other and do not get trampled upon by the powerful. In this role of an umpire it has tried to control the use of money and muscle power and the ruling-party arbitrariness.

However, what needs to be emphasised here is that the nature of its actions has been largely ad hoc. Decisions have been taken by the EC through on the spot assessments of the situations. Though these decisions have been largely fair, this ad hoc manner of functioning can take the EC in the opposite direction of the surging democratic tide. Therefore, this ad hoc manner of working needs to be replaced by a more thought out and informed stance on the needs of the electorate and the democratic system in India. The EC has to ensure that politicisation happens, that it remains within the boundaries of democratic norms, and that these norms themselves do not rest unequally on the contesting sides and lead to depoliticisation of the weak. A longterm strategy or a conscious policy needs to be developed where the growth of democratic aspirations goes together with rule enforcement. This is essential for strengthening democratic values and handling the jolts and unexpected problems that might come up.




[This is an expanded version of the paper I presented at the seminar on ‘Structure and Dynamics of Indian Politics’ organised by the department of political science, M S University of Baroda, January 16-17, 2006. Thanks are due to Anand Mavalankar, the director of the seminar, and to Bidyut Chakrabarty, Asha Sarangi, Ujjwal Singh, Rajeshwari Deshpande and Anil Vajpayee for their suggestions on the paper during the seminar. I am indebted to Javeed Alam for the detailed comments and extended discussions, which shaped the paper in crucial ways.]

1 B R Ambedkar, chairperson of the drafting committee of the Constitution, pointed out during the Constituent Assembly debates on June 15, 1949 that there were two options before the drafting committee regarding the setting up of an Election Commission – one, that there should be in existence a permanent body of four-five members to continue in office without any break, or, to have a body appointed by the president at the time when there is an election on the anvil. The committee took a middle course and proposed to the Constituent Assembly to have permanently in office one person called the chief election commissioner so that a “skeleton machinery would always be available” to handle the in-between work of, say, a by-election or mid-term election in the event of the dissolution of a house before five years and also the revision of the electoral rolls. The proposal was that the president in the event of an election might add other members to the Election Commission. Subsequently, the Election Commission became a three-member body – a change brought about by the government and upheld by the Supreme Court.

2 A more far-reaching proposal of the drafting committee was that instead of having separate commissions for the central legislature, to be appointed by the president, and each state legislature, to be appointed by the governor or ruler of the state, as provided for in the original Article 289, there should be a single commission to handle all elections whether of the centre or units. This was a big change, a “radical change” according to Ambedkar, who proposed it as the chairperson of the drafting committee. This proposal aimed to centralise the election

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machinery in the hands of a single commission. Ambedkar elaborated the reason for this proposed change. The central government had received reports from certain provinces that sections that did not racially, culturally or linguistically belong there were being discriminated against and were excluded from being brought into the electoral rolls by the governments of those provinces. Ambedkar noted that it was to prevent this injustice to the people other than those who belong to the province racially, culturally or linguistically that the drafting committee was moving away from the original proposal of having separate Election Commissions and going in for a single and central Election Commission. Besides this, issues like economic development, unity and integrity of the new nation and border security were weighing on the new state to make it bend towards a strong-centre policy. See the Constituent Assembly Debates June 15-16, 1949 for further details.

3 In the Dhanoa case judgment (1991), the Supreme Court ruled out equality in terms of service and manner of removal between the chief election commissioner and the other election commissioners. But, according to the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners (Conditions of Service) Act, 1994 (originally the Presidential Ordinance 32 of 1993), the other election commissioners can only be removed from office in a like manner and like grounds as the chief election commissioner. For details see Madan (1997).

4 For a detailed discussion of the constitutional and statutory framework see Singh (2004).

5 Among some others, Deshpande’s (2004) study of the women’s vote in the elections of 1990s and 2000s brings this out.

6 M S Gill served as the chief election commissioner between December 12, 1996 and June 13, 2001. The 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections, that brought the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance to power, were held while he was the chief election commissioner.

7 The PDP, the J and K Awami League and the J and K National Panther’s Party gained by this provision.

8 For details see Singh (2004).

9 S S Dhanoa and V S Seigell served as additional election commissioners from October 1989 to January 1990.


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Bavadam, Lyla (2004): ‘A Close Race’, Frontline, September 24.

Dasgupta, Manas (2002): ‘Modi Launches Tirade against CEC’, The Hindu, August 23 (online edition).

Deshpande, Rajeshwari (2004): ‘How Gendered Was Women’s Participation in Election 2004?’ Economic and Political Weekly, December 18.

DeSouza, Peter R (1998): ‘The Election Commission and Electoral Reforms in India’

in D D Khanna et al (eds),Democracy, Diversity, Stability: 50 Years of Indian Independence, Macmillan, New Delhi.

Gill, M S (Interview) (2001): Seminar (Reforming Politics), No 506, October. website: www., checked on December 4, 2005.

Madan, N L (1997): ‘The Election Commission of India: Structural and Organisational Issues’ in M P Singh and S K Chaube (eds), Indian Constitution: A Review, Har-Anand Publications, New Delhi.

Mehta, Pratap Bhanu (2003): The Burden of Democracy, Penguin Books, New Delhi.

Mitra, Subrata K and V B Singh (1999): Democracy and Social Change in India: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the National Electorate, Sage Publications, New Delhi.

Ramakrishnan, Venkitesh (2005): ‘Election Battles’, Frontline, January 14.

Rudolph, Susanne Hoeber and Lloyd I Rudolph (2001): ‘Redoing the Constitutional Design: From an Interventionist to a Regulatory State’ in Atul Kohli (ed), The Success of India’s Democracy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Singh, Ujjwal Kumar (2004): Institutions and Democratic Governance: A Study of the Election Commission and Electoral Governance in India, NMML Monograph: Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi.

The Election Commission of India website:

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AFFECTIVE COMMUNITIES IMMOLATING WOMEN Anticolonial Thought and the Politics of Friendship A Global History of Widow-Burning From Ancient Times to the Present (forthcoming: July 06) Hardback / 625 pp / Rs 795 Hardback / 250 pp / Rs 495

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Gyanendra Pandey EROTIC JUSTICE ROUTINE VIOLENCE Law and the New Politics of Postcolonialism Nations, Fragments, Histories Hardback / large format / 220 pp / Rs 650 Hardback / 250 pp / Rs 595

Meera Kosambi, editor Janaki Bakhle Returning the American GazeTWO MEN AND MUSIC Pandita Ramabai’s ‘The Peoples of the United States’ (1889) Nationalism in the Making of an Indian Classical Tradition Hardback / 300 pp / Rs 595

Hardback / 350 pp / Rs 695

Meera Kosambi

Rajeswari Sunder Rajan CROSSING THRESHOLDS THE SCANDAL OF THE STATE Feminist Essays in Social History (forthcoming: Dec 06) Women, Law, and Citizenship in Postcolonial India Hardback / c.320 pp / c.Rs 695 Hardback / 320 pp / Rs 595

Nivedita Menon

RECOVERING SUBVERSION Feminist Politics Beyond the Law Hardback / 275 pp / Rs 595 D-28, Oxford Apartments

11, I.P. Extension, New Delhi 110092

Chitra Joshi




India’s Labour and Its Forgotten Histories (forthcoming in paperback) 375 pp / Rs 350

Economic and Political Weekly April 29, 2006

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