What You Should Tell Your Child About General Elections

The upcoming 2019 elections in India provides the perfect backdrop to familiarise your child with this important democratic exercise. Here's what you should tell the future citizen of India.

By Arun Sharma

What You Should Tell Your Child About General Elections

“Every election is determined by the people who show up” — Larry J Sabato (American political scientist and political analyst)

After India gained independence in 1947, the founding fathers of our nation reasoned that democracy would be the best form of governance for a country as diverse as ours. And, to achieve this objective, our Constitution was drafted.

This sacred document, which reflects the will of every Indian, dictates, among other things, that our country should have a parliamentary form of government elected by the people.

So, since our Constitution came into effect on 26 January 1950, Indians have voted to elect the government of their choice — the last time in 2014 for the 16th Lok Sabha. This year, we will be voting once again to elect members to the 17th Lok Sabha.

With every Lok Sabha election, there is an increase in the number of voters as many first-time voters get added to the existing number.

Talking about first-time voters, it reminds us parents that, in a few years from now, it would be time for our children to vote. But, to help them become responsible voters, isn't it crucial for them to know everything about the election process? And, who better than us to introduce them to this complex yet important exercise. Here's all you should teach your child about general elections in India.

How it all began

The architects of the Indian Constitution included extensive guidelines on how elections should be conducted. Articles 324 to 329 of Part XV of our Constitution deals with the process of elections.

The Election Commission

According to Article 324 of the Constitution, all the powers of superintendence, direction and control of elections lie with the Election Commission (EC). Set up on 25 January 1950, the EC conducts elections to the Parliament, State Legislative Assemblies, and the offices of the President and Vice-President.

The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), appointed by the President of India, heads the EC. The CEC has a tenure of 6 years or up to age 65, whichever is earlier. Until 1989, the EC was a single-member body comprising only the CEC. However, that year, the President appointed two more election commissioners to help the CEC. So, now, there are three members in the EC.

The electoral process

Now that we know about the EC, let's understand the various components of the electoral process.

First past the post system: Elections in India are conducted under this simple system. Voters cast their vote in favour of their respective candidates through electronic voting machines. The candidate securing the highest number of votes is declared the winner.

Updation of electoral rolls: The electoral roll is a list of all eligible voters of a constituency. It is revised every year to add the names of those who attain the age of 18 years on 1 January of that year. Therefore, this is a continuous process, interrupted only from the last date of filling of nominations till the completion of the elections.

Who is eligible to contest: To be deemed eligible to contest the Lok Sabha elections, the candidate should:

  1. Be an Indian citizen
  2. Be a registered voter in at least one constituency in the state from where he/she is contesting
  3. Be more than 25 years old
  4. Should not have been imprisoned for more than two years
  5. Should be proposed by at least one proposer if contesting on a national party ticket and ten proposers if contesting as an independent

The election schedule: When elections become due, the EC issues a notification for the Parliamentary constituencies. Once the notification is issued, the model code of conduct comes into force. Every political party and candidate has to follow the guidelines listed under this code. As the dates are announced, psephologists and mediapersons get down to work. They try to gauge the mood of the public to come up with possible predictions about winners. This is called the opinion poll. However, the EC can ban the publication of opinion polls if it feels that it may influence the results of the election.

Release of manifesto: Once the date of elections is announced, the political parties and candidates can begin releasing their manifesto, which usually lists the strength of the leader(s) and the programmes that will be implemented if the individual is elected. The manifesto may also describe the drawbacks of the opposition party's schemes and its candidates.

Filing of nominations: A candidate has to file his/her nomination within seven days after the date of election is issued. The day after the last date of filing of nomination, the paperwork filed by the candidates is checked. The next two days are provided for withdrawal of nominations. After this, the final list of candidates is prepared and party symbols are allotted.

Beginning the poll campaign: After the list of valid candidates is declared, those in the electoral fray begin campaigning. The campaign can be carried out until 48 hours prior to the date of polling, when it must be stopped. All the candidates should abide by the guidelines related to campaigning. Failing to do so can invite punitive action by the EC.

Budget for polls: India being a developing country, there is a limit on the amount of money a candidate can spend on the poll campaign. For the 2019 elections in India, the expenses incurred should not exceed Rs 70 lakh. The expenses are monitored by the observers appointed by the EC, who include flying squads, video surveillance teams and so on.

Security arrangements: Providing security for peaceful conduct of elections is of primary importance. To attain this objective, the EC makes use of both the state police force and the central armed forces.

Voting in elections: Unlike previously, when votes were cast using ballot papers, nowadays, electronic voting machines (EVMs) are used. The required number of EVMs are made available by the EC. Together with the party symbols of the candidates in fray, the EVM also has a NOTA (None of the Above) option. Voters unwilling to vote for any of the candidates in their constituency can opt for NOTA.

While most of us think that the use of EVMs in elections is a recent phenomenon, we'd be surprised to know that EVMs were first used in limited numbers in 1982. This was during the by-election to North Paravur Assembly Constituency in Kerala.

After voting ends: Once the time for polling is over, the EVMs are sealed and transported in a designated government vehicle under security to the counting stations. Under the supervision of the returning officers, the votes are counted and the winners declared.

Filing complaints: Any individual who is unhappy with the election process can go ahead and file a complaint in the High Court of that state. In case, the charges are substantiated, the elections can be held again.

For the 2019 general election, it is estimated that there would be more than 900 million eligible voters spread across 543 constituencies. In every constituency, there would be more than 1.49 lakh first-time voters. To add to this, various demands are raised by political parties to further their cause. One example of this being the demand for holding simultaneous elections to both the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies.

Conducting elections successfully in the world's most populous democracy with a plethora of demands but a dearth of resources is no mean feat. The Election Commission, together with the people of India, deserve to be congratulated for participating in this august process and keeping the flag of democracy flying high.

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