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Universal Adult Suffrage

Posted by Admin on September 24, 2014 | Comment

Universal Adult Suffrage 4.23/5 (84.55%) 44 votes

India has a democratic set up with all citizens having equal rights. This could have been farther from truth if the concept of universal adult suffrage was not adopted. As a promoter of political equality, India managed to do away with the restrictions on the exercise of the vote for adults. However, the journey wasn’t easy.

Universal Adult Suffrage

What does Universal Adult Suffrage mean?

The Article 326 of the Indian Constitution grants universal adult suffrage, according to which, every adult citizen is entitled to cast his/her vote in all state elections unless that citizen is “convicted of certain criminal offences” or “deemed unsound of mind.” As per this concept, the right to vote is not restricted by caste, race, sex, religion or financial status.

Developments Leading to Adoption of Universal Adult Suffrage

During the pre-independence era, only 13 per cent of Indian citizens used to enjoy the right to vote. The demand for universal adult suffrage had been gaining momentum few decades prior to the independence. The Motilal Nehru report was among the first proponent of “unlimited adult franchise and equal rights for women.”

It was in 1928 when Dr B.R. Ambedkar appeared before the Simon Commission and insisted on incorporating universal adult franchise in the Constitution of India. According to him, elections were “a weapon in the hands of the most oppressed sections of society” and voting rights will give them the politico-legal equality. Ambedkar found a like-minded colleague in Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, who also subscribed to his liberal views.

Later, the Indian National Congress called for political equality at the 1931 Karachi session. The party argued that it would be one of the crucial strides towards making the electoral process more participatory and inclusive. There were doubts in the minds of our constitution makers and the issue of adult franchise was debated in the Constituent Assembly by many senior leaders before it abolished all the previous restrictions and provided for universal adult suffrage.

Importance of Universal Adult Suffrage

The introduction of universal adult suffrage is considered one of the most important decisions that changed India for the better. Granting voting rights to all is no mean achievement for the founding fathers of Indian Constitution, especially Dr B.R. Ambedkar. It provided the government with “unchallengeable legitimacy against any military intervention” or secessionist movements. Besides achieving gender equality by giving women the right to vote, it eliminated untouchability and ensured equal opportunities for backward class people as well.

The concept of universal adult suffrage along with free and fair voting are looked upon as the “guarantors of minority rights.” It also had a trickle-down impact on poverty alleviation. By allowing voting rights to all citizens, the poor found an opportunity to choose the political administrators and increase the scope of governance at a local level. The direct outcome is prosperity at grassroots level and development of infrastructure.

Another significant transformation that has become evident over the years is the representation of backward sections in Parliament. The composition of the members of Parliament has changed to include individuals from those communities, who become the voice of the oppressed. 

WBSG23.09.2014

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