S.THEODORE BASKARAN

Party flags, graffiti, car loads of party workers whizzing around?

The Indian Constitution has been described as the torch in our path of democracy

There is a lot of bustle around us in recent days. Party flags fluttering, graffiti on walls, Sumos with party workers zipping along and the papers full of pictures of politicians. What is all this activity about? Another elections for the State Assembly is to be held soon in Assam, Kerala, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. All the political parties are preparing for that, very much like the athletes training for a contest. In Tamil Nadu, people will choose their 10th Chief Minister, since the State was created in 1956. The Indian Constitution, the document that lays down how our country should be governed, has been described as the torch in our path of democracy. Among the basic features of the Constitution are democracy, rule of law, secularism and free and fair elections. It opens with the words "We the People" declaring that power comes from the people. Every citizen of India above the age of 18 can vote. Similarly, any Indian above the age of 25 can contest in the Assembly elections. The Constitution provides for a democratic system in which there can be many political parties. Our pattern of democracy is based on the British system.

The nitty gritty

Election for the State Legislative Assembly is held once in five years. Various parties contest. One can contest without the backing of a political party and they are called "Independents". The party, which gets the highest number of successful candidates, will form the ministry. They would choose a leader from their party who would become the Chief Minister. The others would form the opposition in the Legislative Assembly. If no party gets a majority, then two or three parties can join together and form a coalition ministry as it happened in Karnataka. In such situations, the role of the Governor will be important. She/he would decide whom to call to form a ministry.The Election Commission, with the Chief Election Commissioner heading it, conducts the elections. This is an independent body and it is not easy to remove a Chief Election Commissioner once he is appointed. This commission sends to the constituencies' observers, who are actually officers from different government departments chosen for election work. They supervise the conduct of the election and ensure it is done impartially and without any wrong practices. After the election, the commission will announce the results. This commission also conducts the election of the President and Vice-President. It has so far conducted 11 elections to the Parliament. This year we will be electing 234 members for the Assembly (MLAs). Whatever may be the result, the elections will send the roots of democracy deeper in our country. In spite of all our problems - communal riots, terrorism, and corruption, we move on in the path chosen by us in the hope one day we will eradicate all these evils.The voting processWhen we had our first general elections, each ballot box was colour-coded. And the ballot paper was merely dropped in the respective box of the party. Later, each candidate was given a symbol such as bicycle or banyan tree and the voter had to mark on the symbol in the ballot and drop it in the ballot box. Votes were counted manually. But now, we have the electronic voting machines, which make both voting and counting much easier. The commission takes a number of steps to prevent any cheating in voting. Each voter is given an identity card, with a photo, so that only he can vote under his name. In each polling booth there is a voters' list and the officials there will check the name. On the forefinger of each voter, a dot by indelible ink is made to show that he/she has voted. Our past elections show how the verdict of the people makes for smooth and peaceful political transitions. In these elections several millions of people are given the chance to decide who would govern them.