A momentous development that was taking place in the midst of Partition was the preparation of India’s first electoral roll. The electoral roll, meant to include names of all adult men and women without any qualification, was being prepared by the Constituent Assembly Secretariat, under the guidance of constitutional advisor BN Rau. In March 1950, this task was handed over to India’s first Chief Election Commissioner, Sukumar Sen. With the preparation of the roll in 1949, and conduct of the first Lok Sabha elections in 1952, parliamentary democracy based on universal adult suffrage was brought to life in India.
The 1970s and 1980s witnessed constant tussles between the Centre and opposition-ruled states. In 1977, the Janata Party at the Centre dissolved seven assemblies in states ruled by Congress, which settled scores in 1980 by dismissing governments in several Janata Party-ruled states. This continued till the late 1980s, when SR Bommai, former Karnataka chief minister, questioned before the Supreme Court the scope of the President’s power to proclaim emergency in a state under Article 356. While endorsing the Constitution’s federal credentials, the Court unanimously decided that Article 356 could be used only in case of a complete breakdown of constitutional machinery in a state. Ever since, arbitrary dismissals of state assemblies by the Centre have happened sporadically.
Phoolwalon ki Sair
Separation of powers
A 1975 judgment of the Allahabad High Court went down in the annals of history for prompting the imposition of Emergency. After all, it is not every day that a high court voids the election of a sitting prime minister on grounds of electoral malpractice. Indira
Gandhi’s election from Raebareli was set aside and she was barred from holding elected office for six years. The judiciary kept a watchful eye on the government, validating the principle of separation of powers, and specifically, its own independence. The purpose of separating powersbetween government organs, so that they keep each other in check, stood fulfilled.
In September-October every year, Delhi celebrates Phoolwalon ki Sair, which involves processions sprinkling flowers at a temple as well as at the tomb of a Sufi saint. It witnesses participation from Hindus and Muslims alike and reinforces faith in the Constitution’s promise of a secular state. Given the deep religiosity of Indians, secularism in India does not strictly separate state and religion. The Constitution recognises the right of individuals and communities to practise any religion, while also enabling State intervention for reforming oppressive religious customs. Eventually, the plank on which Indian secularism rests is ‘SarvaDharma Sambhava’ – equal respect for all religions.
Fraternity is the pillar on which the institution of democracy rests. The framers remained mindful of India’s cross-cutting diversity along religious, linguistic, and caste-based lines, and adopted a Constitution representative of diverse interests. On February 21, 1948, Dr BR Ambedkar, while submitting the Draft Constitution to the Constituent Assembly, alluded to the insertion of ‘fraternity’ in the Preamble, because without fraternity, liberty and equality could not come into their own. Fraternity did eventually make its way into the Preamble, and also within the Indian society. With seven major religions, 22 constitutionally recognised languages, and thousands of dialects, India is a true embodiment of plurality.