12 May, 2021

A Bet On The People

Universal suffrage, our path to social change

Illustration by Sorit
A Bet On The People

The introduction of universal adult suffrage in India was both a political necessity and an act of extraordinary political daring and imagination. It was an act of political necessity because to deny Indians the right to choose their own rulers would have delegitimised India’s claims to independence and nationhood. The bedrock of the nationalist movement was the claim that Indians were not infants; they were capable of self-government. It is no surprise that the introduction of universal suffrage was almost the only Article that passed without any dissent. There had been consensus on the idea since the 1920s. The only other alternative, indirect democracy, was quickly and rightly sidelined.

But its introduction was also daring. Giving millions of unlettered and impoverished citizens the vote was an unprecedented revolution in the history of democracy. All existing theories of democracy counselled against it. And almost all subsequent social science predicts that such a system could not work; you had to be a middle income country to...

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