India’s first general election was held in 1952, and resulted in victory for Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress Party of India. Nehru had served as the interim leader of the government after India gained its independence in 1947, and then was subsequently elected as the first Prime Minister. The Congress Party won approximately 364 out of 489 seats in the Lower House, which gave them control over Parliament. India’s first elections were cast in international spotlight, as they would determine whether the country would be able to establish a successful democratic government.
In March of 1950, Sukumar Sen was appointed as the chief election commissioner of the first general elections, which were held between October of 1951 and February of 1952. Parliament passed the Representation of the People Act shortly after his appointment, which instituted the national voting age as 21 and established the right to vote for every Indian who lived in a constituent state for 180 days or more. There were over 1800 candidates and 53 parties that took part in the general elections, and about 176 million people were eligible to vote at the time. Out of this population, 85% could not read or write; the ballot papers had symbols for all of the contesting parties and independent candidates for these individuals. There were over 200,000 polling booths created, and an equivalent number of police officers that were necessary to curb unrest. To stop people from voting multiple times, they got marked on their hands with an indelible ink that would not wash away for a week. All of these methods were implemented to ensure that the elections were conducted in a fair and just manner.
There were numerous barriers that served as hindrances to the execution of the elections. While there were geographic factors that required infrastructural improvement, there were also social factors that contributed to the tedious task. Many women did not feel comfortable registering to vote with their legal names, and instead used their familial relations with their children or spouses as an identification factor. The women who would not allow for their legal names to be used were not included on the official voting roll. A majority of the country’s population was also illiterate, which affected the election process incredibly. As mentioned earlier, the ballots required specific measures, such as special symbols per party, to ensure that all people eligible to vote had the ability to know who they were voting for. Despite all these hurdles however, India’s first general elections were an incredible success. As a former British colony with inadequate infrastructural development, significant language barriers, and scarce economic resources, India was able to effectively hold a national election not even a decade after it obtained independence.
The Congress Party was one of the leading actors in the movement towards independence, and the party’s victory in the first general election marked a new era in India’s history. There was fear present that extremist groups would foster tension amongst ethnic groups within the country, but there was no widespread violence present during the elections. While the Congress Party won majority in the parliamentary elections, they did not have the same sweeping victory in all of the state elections. The Communist Party of India specifically had strong support in some southern states including Madras, Hyderabad, and Kerala (formerly known as Travancore-Cochin). This was a cause of concern for the Congress Party, as individual state governments do have an influence on the state of national affairs. However, the Hindu Mahasabha and the separatist Sikh Akali militant parties did not have any major wins in the state elections, which had been a concerning prospect for the Congress Party as well.