Its election time in India and the Election Commission is once again in the thick of the action. Article 324 of the Constitution charges the Commission to oversee, direct and control all aspects of elections to not just the Union Legislature but also the State Legislatures as well.
In the Draft Constitution submitted to the Constituent Assembly in February 1948, the central Commission was not in-charge of elections to State legislatures – this was left to a state Commission, appointed by the State Governor, working independently. However, when Draft Article 289 came up for discussion on 15 June 1949, B.R. Ambedkar, Chairman of the Drafting Committee, moved an amendment placing State elections under the central Commission's ambit.
The reason behind this, Ambedkar told the Assembly, was that the Drafting Committee and the Central government had received word that ‘in these provinces the executive Government is instructing or managing things in such a manner that those people who do not belong to them either racially, culturally or linguistically, are being excluded from being brought on the electoral rolls..’. Ambedkar was concerned that State Commissions would not be allowed to act independently and so it was better to place State elections under the purview of the Central Commission.
H.V. Pataskar did not buy this argument. If there was trouble in the provinces then the remedy was to take action – not centralise the supervision of elections. He claimed that this move of the Drafting Committee was a part of a larger trend and motivation in the constitution-making process that aimed to move away from a federal system.
Kuladhar Chaila also viewed Ambedkar’s amendment through a federalism prism. He suggested that the Assembly adopt a different approach when dealing with the provinces:
‘If you cannot trust the honesty of your own individuals you can never make a success of democracy. You are always suspicious and think that the provinces will be unjust to the minorities. But if they are kept aloof and always under the protection of the President or the central executive, they will never be able to develop their own virtues, and you will only be encouraging disturbance and rebellions.’
K.M Munshi took the problem of undemocratic practices more seriously than Pataskar and Chaila, especially with regards Princely States which were not ‘accustomed even to the little measure of democratic life which is enjoyed by the provinces, are coming into the Union on equal terms.’
He rejected the federalism drenched opposition to the amendment by reminding members that to centralise the election machinery had nothing to do with relative autonomy between Central and State governments, as governments have no say in elections except to provide their administrative machinery to the Commission.
Nonetheless, he did acknowledge that the Draft Articles on elections, including Ambedkar’s amendment, put forward a scheme that made the President powerful and susceptible to central government influence. So, he endorsed Pataskar’s amendment that made certain provisions regarding elections subject to law made by parliament
In the end, the Assembly adopted Ambedkar’s and Pataskar’s amendments.