India's 1957 Elections

India’s second national election occurred in 1957, ten years after the country gained its independence. The elections took place from February 24th to March 14th, and the Congress Party won majority of the Parliament seats as it did in the previous one. There were over 115 million people that participated in the 1957 elections, to determine the lower house of Parliament (Lok Sabha) and the lower houses of the 13 state assemblies (Vidhan Sabhas). The Congress Party also won majority in eleven state assemblies out of thirteen, the two being Kerala and Orissa. There were about 488 members of the Lok Sabha and 2,901 members of the Vidhan Sabhas that were voted for in this election, as well as councils for two Union territories.

 

There were fifteen parties that were officially recognized by the Election Commission, but there were over fifty parties that ran for office. Out of these fifteen parties, four were considered “national” parties, and the other eleven were considered “state” parties. The four “national” parties were the Congress Party, the Praja- Socialist party, the Communist party, and the Jana Sangh party. The “state” parties included Scheduled Castes Federation (SCF), Hindu Mahasabha, Ram Rajya Parishad (RPF), Peasants’ and Workers’ Party (PWP), Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP), Forward Bloc- Marxist, Ganatantra Parishad, Jharkhand Party, Janata Party, People’s Democratic Front (PDF), and Tripura Ganatantrik Sangh.

 

The Congress Party was victorious in the 1957 elections, winning the Lok Sabha majority and eleven out of thirteen state assemblies. This party was one of the most organized and well- supported of the numerous that contested the elections, and was also the association supported and furthered by Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi. As explained in the Far Eastern Survey from May of 1957, “It appealed to the voter with ‘new blood’ among nearly one-third of its candidates- women, minorities, some younger men- and undercut its opposition on both left and right by advocating a ‘socialist pattern of society’ and by criticizing the orthodox and communal- minded Hindu movements.” The numerous opposition parties tried to appeal to the masses by focusing on the short-fallings of the Congress Party, especially focusing on the high food prices, high rates of unemployment, and level of corruption present in the government. However, the Congress Party was a united front that kept the opposition arguments at bay.

 

The success of the Communist Party in Kerala came as a surprise, especially with the Congress Party’s decisive victories in every other state. This state had the greatest population density, the lowest per capita income, and the highest literacy rate. This combination meant that there were highly educated people that were unemployed, amidst the tension between the state’s northern (Cochin) and southern (Travancore) regions. The Congress Party had prominence in the northern areas of Kerala, but this support was not felt throughout the state. Many predicted that there would be no majority winner for Kerala in the 1957 elections. The Communist Party however received 60 seats with a voter turnout of 79%, and the Congress Party received 43 seats out 126 in total.

 

The Communist Party’s victory in Kerala portrays how even though the Congress Party was the most dominant party in Indian politics at the time, the democratic election processes were still in place within the country. The country still had a significantly illiterate population, and the Election Commission was responsible for the numerous administrative processes to ensure that all eligible individuals could vote in a fair manner. There were about 200,000 polling stations that were used in the 1957 elections, which is over 100,000 more stations than the elections of 1950-1951. This change led to an expedited election-counting process, with results released months earlier than the first elections. The use of symbols to identify political parties was still implemented as well, which helped ensure that all eligible voters were able to cast their ballots. The 1957 election was India’s second general election since the country gained its independence, and like the first successful general election, is a prime example of India’s democratic nature.