Importance of social justice | Is India’s electoral system unfair to the Dalits?

Importance of social justice |  Is India’s electoral system unfair to the Dalits?

October 25, 2021 marked 70 years of India’s first general elections, a watershed event that cemented India’s place as the world’s largest democracy and vindicated the founders’ faith in ensuring all citizens the vote.

The successful implementation of universal adult suffrage between October 25, 1951 and February 21, 1952 showed that property, education, or income were not rational criteria for denying people the right to elect their representatives and rulers. . It also belied the criticisms of many colonial and imperial commentators that democracy was not the preserve of the white man, a point that is emphasized in a special series published in the UK. Hindustan Times In the past week.

One of the most important consequences of universal adult suffrage was the addition of millions of marginalized caste voters who were likely added to electoral rolls after British-era income and property restrictions were lifted.

The data on the jump in voters of the programmed castes (SC) are incomplete, but given the evidence from sociological and official reports on the economic destitution of the SC, it is not unreasonable to imagine that these groups were the most disadvantaged by the restrictions. voting, and therefore benefited greatly from the franchise.

Of course, this was the core of BR Ambedkar’s idea to push the universal franchise forward. The core of this idea was evident in his presentation to the Southborough Commission in 1919, when he questioned the rationale behind denying the vote to underrepresented and disadvantaged communities.

In his speeches to the Constituent Assembly, delivered roughly three decades later, it is clear that India’s prime minister of law saw political equality as a fundamental component of the life of dignity and respect that he envisioned for the country’s most marginalized communities.

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Has that happened? Or has the “life of contradictions” that Ambedkar warned of on January 26, 1950, overwhelmed the project of political equality for the Dalits, especially in the field of the election of representatives? It’s a bit of both, and that remains one of the harshest and under-told truths about the Indian elections.

A key feature of the 1951 elections were joint electorates: unlike British India, no community has separate constituencies to elect its own community representatives. Joint electorates, Mahatma Gandhi argued, were important to national unity. Ambedkar, on the other hand, thought that the denial of separate electorates – a decision formalized in the Poona Pact of 1932 – was aimed at denying the depressed classes a genuine opportunity to elect their true representatives.

So what actually happened? Between 1951 and 1961, India had one-member constituencies for the so-called general population, and two-member constituencies for seats with one SC member to be elected.

In these two-member constituencies, one member was elected as in any regular election, and a second member was elected who could only belong to one SC group. The electorate for both would be the same: all eligible voters.

Voting rules were complex: voters had to cast their ballot for the first member and second member separately, in different colored and marked boxes, and many votes were often canceled because people put all their votes on the same one. box. Even the election report for the 1951 elections of Sukumar Sen, the first election commissioner, notes that voting and counting in two-member districts was cumbersome. Raja Sekhar Vundru’s 2017 book, Ambedkar, Gandhi and Patel: The creation of the Indian electoral system, notes that Ambedkar filed an electoral complaint about the unusually high number of voided ballots after his surprise loss to the Bombay North seat in 1951.

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India abolished two-member constituencies in 1961, but the principle of reserving seats for SCs was not changed. Now some single-member constituencies have been reserved for SCs. In effect, this meant that SC populations had very little control over the election or election of SC members, because on rare occasions the districts were Dalits 50% or more of the electorate.

Today, in many reserved constituencies, Dalits make up 20-30% or around the population. The overwhelming majority in those seats remain with other castes, who have no incentive to elect a strong Dalit leader, especially in caste-polarized societies. In addition, SC candidates depend on the support of the upper castes for their election; Ironically, they can dispense with the support of the Dalits in a seat reserved for the SC, but not without the support of the so-called upper castes. Therefore, the parties have no motivation to nominate strong candidates for the CS, who can antagonize an electorate dominated by the upper castes. The upper castes, already wielding power in India’s social and political arenas, also wield decisive influence in reserved constituencies.

This teaches us two things. One, the reserved constituencies that were first devised as a way to undermine caste hegemony in politics and help push Dalit representation is a flawed tool. Yes, Dalit representatives enter the assemblies and parliament, but the power to make or break their electoral fortunes still remains with the upper caste communities.

Two, any understanding of Dalit political leanings that is based on reserved constituencies is flawed. There is no real metric to understand, on a large scale, how Dalit people vote and what their political options are, or how they differ from caste Hindu communities. Any analysis of Dalit preferences based on reserved electoral districts is doomed to reproduce the same high-caste prejudices that are inherent in Indian politics. It is for similar reasons that the tendencies of the winners in reserved electoral districts are not much different from other seats in the assembly or general elections.

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The Indian elections are a remarkable feat for a new democracy. Yet the country’s underserved castes continue to be treated unfairly when it comes to their representation, and the system of reserved electoral districts is flawed at best.

Of course, the answer is not the elimination of the political reserve, but its fine-tuning. How can marginalized castes be assured of better and more meaningful representation, autonomous and not controlled by other groups?

Herein lies a possible direction for the Indian electoral machinery to evolve.

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