In a democratic country, government must take a verdict of the people from time to time. When it contemplates a change in policy, it becomes necessary to know what people think about it. Also it may be necessary to consult the people as a routine measure, after intervals, fixed by the statue. For this purpose elections are held all over the country and people are asked to cast their votes for or against certain measure.
The existing popular assemblies are dissolved, and they are re-constituted on the basis of a general election. Usually people vote on party lines. Where there is only one party, as it was in the former Soviet Union and in the present-day communist China, votes are cast for or against the party candidate. Policies are decided or the basis of such voting.
In our country, a general election is held normally after five years. But if a Prime Minister contemplate a new line of policy, he or she may seek mandate from the people even before the expiry of five years, as Mrs. Indira Gandhi did in 1971.
For the purpose of elections, the country is divided into a large number of constituencies. These constituencies are asked to elect their representatives. Each party puts its own candidates for election. When the candidates have submitted their nomination papers by the prescribed date, after the scrutiny of nomination papers are finished, dates for election are announced and the electoral machinery begins to function.
The candidates or their agents go from house to house, canvassing votes. The party bosses are active and hold public meetings to explain to the people what they stand for. Each party uses every argument and influence to convince the electorate that it alone is right and can deliver the goods.
At one time voters were bribed, persuaded or threatened. But now this is not much in evidence. For malpractices during election are strictly forbidden and the whole election may be counter-manded or annulled (cancelled) if such a corrupt charge is proved. For there is the three man election commission to oversee the entire election process.
A prominent and eye-catching feature of election propaganda is by flaunting posters on houses and banners across the streets as also hoardings with flags and slogans and symbols of the candidates and wall graphics.
The Election Day is usually a general holiday. From morning, voters go their way to the polling-booths where long queue are formed to ensure orderly voting. Voters move up to the ballot box after running through proper formalities and cast their votes according to their preference.
To obviate false voting, the forefinger of the voter is marked with an indelible ink spot and his signature is taken, after check-up by the rival polling agents. The system to be followed in the next General Election is to supply each voter with a photo identity card which he must have to produce to the polling officer on compulsion.
Some take their voting as a serious duty; others are in a more light-hearted mood. The Election Conducting Officers as well as candidates go from one both to another as if to remind their supporters of their existence, for canvassing on that day is strictly forbidden. Serious complaints about malpractices are sent up to the Election Tribunal.
After the voting is over, the ballot boxes are sealed and taken to the proper place for counting. This is the most important and exciting of all days. The issue is to be decided. The candidates are on the tenterhook of suspense.
The ministry, i.e. the party in power is equally so for it may be voted out of power. As the secret of each ballot box is unlocked by the Returning officer, the successful candidate and his party are overjoyed; the unsuccessful go out crestfallen. The total results show which party has won. If the ruling party is defeated, it resigns and allows the winning party or coalition to assume the reins of office. The verdict of the people is mandatory.
Do elections as they are held today in our country truly reflect the will of the people? Doubts are- often expressed in this regard. Parties are so many that it is difficult to judge their credentials. They often represent local, regional, communal or sectarian interest and therefore they divert attention from important national issue. Often a party, which is in a minority on a total count of voter, may win in a large number of constituencies, and thus secure an effective majority for functioning as a government. Another irritant to Indian Election system is the presence of a large number of unprincipled independent candidates in the election process. With all its limitations, election on the basis of adult franchise seems to be the most practical way of ensuring a truly democratic government.