The Electoral System in India
As mentioned above, India has a federal structure with bicameral legislature and clear division of powers between the centre and the states. Lok Sabha at the centre and the legislative assembly in states are the popular houses where the members are directly elected by the people for a normal tenure of five years. On the other hand, Rajya Sabha at the centre and Vidhan parishad (Legislative Council) in the states are indirect houses where are the members are not directly elected by the people.
In order to understand electoral system in India, three important questions need to be answered; who holds the election, who can contest an election, who votes in an election.
Who Holds the Election?
Article 324 of the Indian constitution provides for an independent Election Commission for the superintendence, direction and control of the electoral roll and the conduct of elections. The constitutional status given to the Election commission makes it the apex body of Indian electoral framework when it comes to holding elections in India.
The election commission consists of a Chief election Commissioner (CEC) and 2 election commissioners. They are appointed by the President of India on the advice of the Union Council of ministers. The term of the CEC is 6 years or 65 years of age whichever is earlier. The term of other election commissioners is 6 years of service or 62 years of age whichever is earlier. They can be removed from their office by the president on a resolution passed by both the houses of parliament by a special majority on the grounds of proved misbehavior and incapacity.
The election commission has a very limited staff of their own. It conducts the election with the help of the administrative machinery. Once the election process begins commission can exercise complete control over the administration of the state as far as the election matters are concerned. During this period commission enjoys full rights of transferring officers or stopping their transfers in order to ensure free and fair elections.
Who can contest an Election?
An Indian citizen who is 25 years and above can contest the Lok Sabha election or the assembly election in India. However, as per the Representation of People’s Act 1951, if the person is convicted of any offence and sentenced to an imprisonment of 2 years or more, then this would be treated as disqualification from contesting an election. As per the same act a person cannot contest from more than two constituencies for a Lok Sabha/Vidhan Sabha election. In India, First Past the Post (FPTP) system is followed to declare winner of an election.
The Concept of Reserved Constituency
There are certain social groups which may not be spread in a constituency in numbers that may influence the result of the constituency but they are in sizable numbers if seen nationally. Hence, in order to ensure that all social groups in the country are well represented in the popular houses at the centre and state levels, certain constituencies are reserved for deprived sections such as the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled castes. Therefore India adopts a system of reserved constituency. In this system all voters in the constituency are eligible to vote but the candidate must belong to only a particular community or social section for which the seat is reserved.
The decision on deciding upon the reservation of the constituency is taken by the Delimitation Commission. It is appointed by the President of India and works in collaboration with the Election Commission of India. It is appointed for the purpose of drawing up of boundaries of constituencies. After drawing the boundaries, population composition of each constituency is looked at before arriving at a decision. Different parameters for different social groups are considered while reserving constituencies.
Who Votes in an Election?
Indian citizens above the age of 18 years are eligible to vote. Till 1989 an adult meant an Indian citizen above the age of 21. This was changed to 18 through The Constitution (sixty first Amendment) Act 1988.
Voter participation plays a vital role in any elections. India has seen volatile trends till early 1990’s as far as the voter turn in Lok Sabha elections is concerned. The trend stabilized in late 1990’s and early 2000 but saw a sharp in the recently concluded 2014 elections. First Lok Sabha elections in Independent India were held in 1952. The debut elections saw 61.2 percent voter turnout which slightly increased to 62.7 in 1957 before witnessing a strong dip in 1962 (55.4 percent). Till 1971 majority governments came to power and hence the normal 5 year tenure was completed. However, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi imposed national emergency in 1975 and hence the next Lok Sabha elections were held in 1977 only after the emergency was revoked. On the back drop of anti emergency movements in the country, these elections saw a sharp rise of almost 5 percentage points in 1977 if compared with the previous elections. The volatile trends continued till 1980 before the 1984 Lok Sabha elections saw a sharp rise of almost 8 percentage points on the back drop of assassination of the former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The trend stabilized till 1989 before seeing another dip in 1991. Elections in 1991 were held since the minority government under V.P Singh was dissolved in just two years. From 1991 till 2009, the era of coalition politics dominated India political system. The trends of voter participation also stabilized during the late 1990s and first decade of the new century. However, 2014 Lok Sabha elections saw a massive 8 percentage point rise if compared with the voter turnout of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. This election also gave one party a clear majority after a span of 30 years.
PDF : Handbook for Counting Agents (At Elections where Electric Voting Machines are used) (ECI: 2004)
Link : Electoral System in India (www.Indian-elections.com)- Brief explanation of electoral system and processes in India