January 2, 1952, was a key day for Madras city. On that day, residents participated in the country’s first and the world’s largest democratic exercise. Preparations had started months in advance. For Madras, the election would allow voters to elect their representatives to the Lower House of Parliament and the State Legislative Assembly simultaneously. It continues to be known as the 1951 elections, though voting happened only the next year.
The Government of Madras pulled out all stops to confront the daunting challenge of approaching elections. A new post of the Deputy Secretary in the Public Election Department was created to manage the growing volume of work. An elaborate security detail was organised to ensure a free and fair election. Apart from police units stationed at each electoral region, a mobile fleet of police officers was on call to attend to any emergency.
By October 1951, the Commissioner of Madras Corporation started conducting a series of training workshops for a small group of officials to familiarise them with electoral procedures. They in turn were expected to instruct 3,500 polling personnel in the weeks to come.
Different parts of the city witnessed mock elections to acquaint a first-time voting public with the motions of electioneering. Ripon Buildings even housed a model polling booth to demonstrate the process of casting a ballot.
Considering the overwhelming difficulties that the election posed, the effort invested in aspiring to deliver an inclusive mandate must be commended. Separate booths for women were promised at every polling station. The blind voter was assured of her vote counting with the Presiding Officer being assigned the special responsibility of casting the vote.
On the eve of polling day, authorities expressed satisfaction with the arrangements made for the conduct of what they called “a huge colossal experiment.”
They estimated that the turnout would be between 60-75% — a figure deduced as being largely dependent, interestingly, on the participation of women. The failure to declare a holiday however left many unhappy.