Let us begin by asking ourselves two simple questions about elections and democracy.

  1. Can we have democracy without holding elections?
  2. Can we hold elections without having democracy?

Let us have a discussion in the classroom on both these questions by using examples from whatever we have learnt so far in the previous classes. 

The first question reminds us of the necessity of representation in a large democracy. All citizens cannot take direct part in making every decision. Therefore, representatives are elected by the people. This is how elections become important. Whenever we think of India as a democracy, our mind invariably turns to the last elections. Elections have today become the most visible symbol of the democratic process. We often distinguish between direct and indirect democracy. A direct democracy is one where the citizens directly participate in the day-to-day decision- making and in the running of the government. The ancient city-states in Greece were considered examples of direct democracy. Many would consider local governments, especially gram sabhas, to be the closest examples of direct democracy. But this kind of direct democracy cannot be practiced when a decision has to be taken by lakhs and crores of people. That is why rule by the people usually means rule by people’s representatives.

In such an arrangement citizens choose their representatives who, in turn, are actively involved in governing and administering the country. The method followed to choose these representatives is referred to as an election. Thus, the citizens have a limited role in taking major decisions and in running the administration. They are not very actively involved in making of the policies. Citizens are involved only indirectly, through their elected representatives. In this arrangement, where all major decisions are taken by elected representatives, the method by which people elect their representatives becomes very important.

The second question reminds us of the fact that not all elections are democratic. A large number of non-democratic countries also hold elections. In fact non-democratic rulers are very keen to present themselves as democratic. They do so by holding election in such a way that it does not threaten their rule. Can you think of some examples of such non-democratic elections? What do you think would distinguish a democratic from a non-democratic election? What can be done to ensure that elections in a country would be conducted in a democratic way?

This is where constitution comes in. The constitution of a democratic country lays down some basic rules about elections. The details are usually left to be worked out by laws passed by the legislatures. These basic rules are usually about

  • Who is eligible to vote?
  • Who is eligible to contest?
  • Who is to supervise elections?
  • How do the voters choose their representatives?
  • How are the votes to be counted and representatives elected? 

Like most democratic constitutions, the Constitution of India answers all these questions. As you can see, the first three questions are about ensuring that elections are free and fair and can thus be called democratic. The last two questions are about ensuring a fair representation. In this chapter you will consider both these aspects of the Constitutional provisions about elections. 

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