When a nation voted

Sixty five years ago, India celebrated its democrcy with the first general election. The INC won the elections with a whopping majority of 364 seats.

Published - February 13, 2017 12:05 pm IST

February 10, 1952 is a landmark day for the Congress Party of India as it won the country’s first general election. Under the stewardship of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the party won 364 of the 489 seats and 45% of the total votes polled. This was over four times as many votes as the second-largest party. The first general elections, conducted in 401 constituencies, represented 26 Indian states. A clear majority proved that the Congress Party would be the next ruling party. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru already held a short-term post in the government since 1947 but this victory led him a further five-year term in office. The power was finally passed on from the British to Indians by electoral votes.

Test of democracy

Independence brought with it a sense of freedom and democracy. Until 1947, India was under the British rule. The elections held after two years, was important as it would test India’s capability to work as a democratic nation. They were based on universal adult franchise — all those who were 21 or older had the right to vote. There were over 173 million voters, most of them poor, illiterate and with no experience of elections. Since India had a diverse culture, there was fear that certain groups might create ethnic issues. However, everything went off smoothly. There was a house-to-house survey to register the voters. With over 70% of the voters being illiterate, candidates were to be identified by symbols, assigned to each major party and independent candidates, painted on the ballot-boxes. The voters were to place the ballot papers in the box assigned to a particular candidate, and ballot was secret. Almost 224,000 polling booths, one for every 1,000 voters, were constructed and equipped with over 21/2 million steel ballot-boxes, one box for every candidate. Nearly 6,20,000,000 ballot papers were printed. More than a million officials supervised the conduct of the polls. Of the many candidates, whoever got the largest number of votes would be elected. It was not necessary for the winning candidate to have a majority. Symbols of each party were printed on the ballot papers to help the illiterate. Voting was made simple for the voters. All they had to do was drop off the ballot paper into a box marked with the symbol and picture of their preferred candidate.


Though democracy was a major milestone for India, the elections posed certain challenges. With close to 18,000 candidates for 4,412 seats, about 497 were for Lok Sabha and rest, for the state government. Though, the Congress party was seen to be have a strong hold, it faced setbacks in Madras, Hyderabad and Travancore-Cochin. It did not win the majority as against the strong hold of the Communist party. The dominance of the Communist party in the states posed major difficulties. The was because the states did not have to uphold the central government policies.

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