India’s general elections are in full swing and millions of Indian citizens are coming out to exercise their franchise. The decision of the framers of the Indian Constitution to provide for adult franchise is reflected in Article 326. Most framers of the Constitution were unequivocal about their support for adult franchise but there were members who were not enthusiastic and expressed concern. 

On 16 June 1949, when the Constituent Assembly was considering some amendments to Article 326 (Draft Article 289-B), Brajeshwar Prasad opposed adult franchise ‘because it is a gross violation of the tenets of democracy’. He further added that ‘adult franchise presupposed that the electorate is enlightened. Where the electorate is not enlightened there cannot be parliamentary democracy’. Presumably, Prasad was of the view that the Indian electorate was not enlightened.

Prasad was not alone in his critique. Thirumala Rao viewed adult franchise ‘without proper education and without proper patriotism’ as a dangerous weapon. He argued that the electorate in India was mostly poor, that ‘proper patriotism’ had not trickled down, and that people would most likely exercise their franchise on the basis on provincial and communal passions.

The lack of education also featured in K.T. Shah’s concerns. He wanted illiteracy to be tackled urgently and eliminated in 10 years so that ‘voters will all have this minimum of requirement in democratic citizenship.’.

Another strand of concern centred on adult franchise being introduced too soon and in full measure.  H.N. Kunzru felt that it was not wise ‘to go at one bound from a greatly restricted to universal franchise’. He argued that a gradual increase in the franchise would ‘have allowed less demagogy and made it easier both for political parties and individual candidates to meet electors and educate them’.  He acknowledged that it was too late to change the Constitution and so threw a challenge to ‘political parties’ and ‘public men’ to

take all possible measures to enable the electorate to understand the duties that it will be called upon to perform and to provide the conditions that will make it possible for the elector to become a self-respecting citizen capable of thinking out, at any rate, the ordinary issues for himself.

Interestingly, it seems like political parties were seen as critical to the project of educating the masses to undertake citizenship duties, at-least according to those who had reservations about adult franchise

Overall, in spite of criticism from some members, the majority of the Assembly felt that adult franchise in India should not be contingent on the achievement of some ideal levels of education, patriotism or any other social-political-economic indicator. In the next post in this series, we shall look at some of the arguments made in favour of adult franchise in India and why members felt it was critical to India’s constitutional future.

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