(This is part of the series Make History Fun Again, where the writers introduce historical facts, events and personalities in a fun way for parents to start a conversation with their kids.)
By Archana Garodia Gupta and Shruti Garodia
Lok Sabha Election Result 2019: India, of course, has the largest elections in the world, by far. It has nearly one billion voters (900 million actually) and one out of every eight people alive in the world today can vote in this Indian election! The next largest election is in the United States, which is a small fraction – 160 million (1/6th). So the Indian elections require a crazy amount of planning.
When India became independent back in 1947, our Constitution makers had many tough decisions to make. Should there be separate electorates for women? For minorities? In the great spirit of equality, which was an integral part of our freedom struggle, they decided to go with universal adult franchise, which meant that all adults would get one vote each, whether they could read or write, whether they were male or female, whether they were rich or poor.
This seemed to be a crazy idea at the time. Many countries in the West simply did not believe that India could pull off democracy; they thought it was just not possible – India was too huge, too poor, too illiterate!
There were so many uniquely Indian problems, and we came up with uniquely Indian solutions! Many have since been emulated across the world.
At the time, only about 15 per cent of the country could read. Most people didn’t even understand what voting was! The Government conducted an entire campaign through radio programmes and special film screenings to teach the Indian public that they now had a voice in choosing who ruled them!
Since almost everyone was illiterate, most people couldn’t even choose the name of the candidates in the polling booths as they could not read. So a brilliant idea was adopted; there would be distinct symbols of each party, which would be printed on the ballot paper next to the name of the candidate, so even an illiterate person could put a stamp on the symbol he recognised.
Another interesting aspect of the first elections was that many women refused to give their own names as they had always referred to themselves and wife of so-and-so or mother-of-so-and-so. The officials kept trying to persuade them that they needed their actual names, but they wouldn’t budge. Unfortunately, this meant that many women, especially in north India, didn’t get on the voter list for the first election at all.
Now you must have seen that in India, after voting, your finger and nail get painted with violet coloured indelible ink. This was actually developed in India to prevent people from voting again and again. It is manufactured by a government-owned paint company started by the Maharaja of Mysore, which now also supplies it to 30 other countries like Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Nigeria for their elections!
Since the first elections, Indians have been very enthusiastic about voting. More than 60 per cent of eligible voters regularly turn out to vote, which is considered very high. In 1952, The Tribals of Odisha came to the voting booths with their bows and arrows, while the Nagas trekked the hills for days.
Here are 3 quick fun facts about India’s elections:
1. According to Indian law, no one should have to travel more than two kilometers to vote. So polling booths are set up in the most remote locations. In 1952, one polling booth in the jungle had a few unique visitors – an elephant and some panthers!
2. In 1962, Maharani Gayatri Devi went into the Guiness Book of World Records for the largest landslide election victory, winning 192,909 votes out of 246,516 cast.
3. 102-year-old Shyam Saran Negi, a retired schoolteacher from Himachal Pradesh, cast independent India’s first vote in 1951. He has voted in every election since then and plans to vote this time too!
(For more fun journeys through India’s history, check out the recently released two-volume set, The History of India for Children Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, published by Hachette India. Follow on twitter @shrutigarodia_)