Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud on Friday said that Universal Adult Franchise (UAF) has led to a silent revolution in the country.
Speaking during the eighth Dr. L.M. Singhvi Memorial Lecture on ‘Universal Adult Franchise: Translating India’s political transformation into a social transformation,’ the CJI said that the Indian experiment with UAF contradicted all myths of those times.
It was believed that only a few had the political consciousness to vote wisely, however, the Indian experience rejected all elite understanding of the democratic process and led a silent revolution.
He said electoral democracy became an agent of pervasive change at the grassroots level, while the reservation of seats for women and marginalised groups in Panchayats gave them the power to shape their own destiny.
Speaking about Dr. Singhvi, the CJI said he was one of the tallest doyens of the bar, an astute jurist, a fierce parliamentarian, and a prolific writer. Justice Chandrachud added that he always looked up to Dr. Singhvi.
As per the CJI, power was concentrated in the upper classes of society in the country. The rights considered universal today were not universal then.
The idea of democracy was controlled by the elites of society. The structure and exercise of democracy were only retrenchments of social privilege and hegemony, he added.
Justice Chandrachud said leaders like Jyotiba Phule laid down the groundwork for marginalised sections to be a part of the administration.
Dr B.R. Ambedkar played a key role in this struggle for social change, he added.
Calling the right to be part of the political system as crucial for citizenship, the CJI said the marginalised communities had to struggle every inch to claim equal rights. Therefore, the idea of universal adult franchise was not just a political idea, but at its core, was a social idea.
He further said that introduction of UAF was truly a revolutionary move when it had just been extended to women and people of colour recently in developed countries.
Calling the Indian Constitution a feminist, as well as a socialist and egalitarian document, the CJI gave a historical conspectus on post-Independence developments with respect to the UAF
He said over the past 70 years, translation of the right to vote and its realisation has not been a simple journey. But, right from the first election, Indians have been enthusiastic.
Marginalised communities such as Dalits have considered the right to vote as a sacrosanct feature. They have shown a kind of ownership of the Constitution because it was this that gave them the right, he added.
UAF was an equaliser. Those who were denied rights and powers traditionally, now were deciding the course of the country’s history. This is how UAF lead to social transformation, explained Justice Chandrachud.
The CJI further elaborated on how the 73rd and 74th Amendments and the structures of governments created by these amendments enhanced the basic structure of the Constitution.
Focuses on the “legacy & culture of self-governance of indigenous people”.
He said exercising the right to vote by citizens was an informed choice made by them. Consultation, dialogue, debate and negotiation occur among diverse social groups to facilitate social transformation, he added.
Speaking about the father of the Constitution, the CJI said Dr. B.R. Ambedkar believed that UAF would help transform political equality into social equality. The Indian experience was a testament to the transformative potential of the franchise, he added.