Nehru’s Word: We can still make our election process smoother

"There should be no interval, or very little interval, between the actual polling and the counting"

Pt Nehru interacts with a farmer tilling his land
Pt Nehru interacts with a farmer tilling his land

Jawaharlal Nehru

The Election Commission of India (ECI) has drawn much flak for the way it conducted the latest Lok Sabha elections. Discrepancies in votes polled and votes counted, malfunctioning EVMs, faulty electoral rolls and deliberate overlooking of repeated model code violations by the ruling party are among the many complaints people have made. However, the response from the Election Commission and the government has been far from adequate. Contrast this with the alacrity with which Jawaharlal Nehru on 12 February 1952 wrote to the Election Commission after the first general elections asking the poll panel to take immediate steps to address the lacunae that had come to light in what was otherwise considered a very free and fair election.


The general elections are almost over and I suppose you will present a full report about these elections… I am not so much concerned with particular complaints or individual irregularities. These can be enquired into where necessary or dealt with by election tribunals.

What I am concerned with is the wider issue. What faults in our election procedure have been disclosed by these elections? On the whole, it is generally recognised that the elections have been remarkably successful. That is so, but I have no doubt that many facts have come to our notice which will require a change in our rules of procedure in order to make the elections simpler and more fool-proof.

I think it would be desirable to hold some kind of a general inquiry to find out, from the lessons derived from the elections, what we can do to improve them and the procedure. It might be necessary to amend the Representation of the People Act as well as the rules made under it.

Having regard to the fact that these were our first elections, the percentage of voters who cast their votes is very satisfactory. As a matter of fact, I am told that many persons came and waited and then went away without voting because they could wait no longer.

It sometimes happened that there was some slight discrepancy in the name recorded or the father’s name. Because of this, either the voter could not vote or he was asked to wait and he did not choose to do so, having waited long enough already.

1) The first thing to do would be to revise carefully the electoral rolls from the experience gained recently

2) Every attempt should be made to simplify the procedure, wherever this is possible

3) The time taken by the elections as a whole should be shortened. It is far too long lasting as it does about three months or more.

4) What appears to me even more important is that there should be no interval, or very little interval, between the actual polling and the counting. Most of the complaints are due to the fact that there was some delay and allegations were made of tampering with ballot boxes.

5) I am told that wherever there was a re-poll, the percentage of votes was considerably higher than previously. This shows that as voters are getting used to this procedure, they are getting over their shyness and apprehensions. In any future general election or by-election, the probability is that we shall have a much larger percentage of people voting

6) Some complaints have been made that the label containing the candidate’s symbol was sometimes pulled out and another put in its place… In future, perhaps, care might be taken to make this impossible

7) It has also come to my notice that the symbol on the labels was often not very clear and when gum or glue was applied to it, it became still less clear. It must be remembered that the average villager is not used to reading or using his eyes for this kind of purpose. He should be given symbols which clearly stand out

8) It also appears to me that the first box in the row of boxes gains some advantage, as there are a number of persons who are too nervous to choose, and put their voting papers in the first box. I do not know what we can do about it. Perhaps, this could only be remedied by experience which the voter is rapidly acquiring.

I might mention that in my own election, a person (Chatterjee) stood against me. Nobody had ever heard of him before. He announced that his opposition was symbolic only. He did not take the slightest trouble over the election and appointed no agents and did no canvassing. Nevertheless, he got about 27,000 votes. I presume this was largely due to the fact that his box was number one

9) The system of double-member constituencies has certainly given rise to a great deal of confusion. Probably many of the invalid votes were due to this. Indeed, the large number of invalid votes itself puts us on enquiry

10) I do not know if voting for both the parliamentary and the assembly seats, more or less at the same time, produces any confusion in the voter’s mind

11) One major fact has been pointed out to me as leading to many difficulties. This was the incorrectness of the electoral rolls. This led not only to delay and holding up voters, but to other mistakes also

12) The identification paper given to the candidate was sometimes put in the box instead of the voting paper or with it. Evidently, the voter was confused.

13) There appears to be no adequate method of checking voters and stopping false impersonation. Any person who gives the right name and right particulars can vote, or the same person may come repeatedly with different names on the voters’ list. This is a serious matter. Previously there was some check of some kind. Now there is practically none.

In Bombay, I am told, many persons took advantage of this and impersonated others. When the real voter came, he could not vote and he had no remedy. Probably this kind of thing does not occur much in the rural areas where people are not clever enough for mischief of this kind. In towns it may be common. Some way out should be found


I presume that you will ask your provincial election commissioners for reports… You should also ask them if they have any suggestions to make for amending our present rules of procedure for elections so as to make them simpler and less liable to abuse.

I would suggest to you to address the principal parties in the elections also—those to whom you gave party symbols. Ask them for their suggestions about amending rules, etc.


Selected and edited by MRIDULA MUKHERJEE, former professor of history at JNU and former director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library

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