Adult Franchise plays an extremely important role in a democratic set up because
people get to choose their representative who they believe to have the
resolution to lead them in ways which suits the interest of the people. Adult
Franchise guarantees the 'right to vote' of the citizens in a democratic
structure. It is an opportunity for people to bring a set up into existence
which governs them or by which they want to be governed. The idea of democracy
is rooted in the very idea of adult franchise.
It is based on the idea of
equality whereby it states that every adult, irrespective of their caste,
gender, wealth, religion has the right to vote and choose their leader. Adult
Franchise enables the youth to become the catalysts for social change, they
become social engineers. The youth is the most active group of any nation
contributing to the economy. They constitute a major chunk of human capital so
when Adult Franchise empowers them, they would contribute to the concretization
of the very idea of a stable welfare state. Adult Franchise is cardinal to the
maintenance of the spirit of democracy.
An insight into the concept of Adult Franchise:
A society is comprised of people of all age groups, backgrounds, they have their
own set of value systems, they are socialised in different set up, they have
different aims and agendas, they have different lifestyles. They also belong to
different class, creed, sect, colour, religion but in a democracy their
individual existence matters and adult franchise acts as a means to guarantee
It was introduced to prevent a state of lawlessness, political disorder
which arises due to absence of a governmental authority which is not tyrannical
in nature but serves and protects the interests of the people and works for
their welfare. It was introduced to establish a state of equality between all
sections of society. In order to protect and secure the liberty, equality,
freedom of individuals in a democratic set up so that people have a voice to
raise their concerns and make sure their voices are heard.
Adult Franchise is crucial in preventing a state of absolute monarchy where the
people have no right to challenge the sovereign and permanently surrender their
rights to the government. It is significant to prevent a state of Oligarchy
where power is vested in the hands of few wealthy people who work for their
selfish interests and completely ignore the welfare of people.
is substantial in doing away with a tyrannical form of government where an
absolute or autocratic ruler is unrestrained by law, where the citizens are
subjected to oppression. So, in order to keep a check on the government and to
prevent a democratic state from turning into some dictatorship, adult franchise
is of utmost importance because they have the power to vote or not to vote a
party back into power.
Jean Jacob Rousseau in his Social Contract Theory talked about general will of
people and how significant it is in maintaining a stage of "idyllic happiness"
where individuals are noble savage, good to each other, happy. He talks about
taking everyone in equality, to aim for the ethical interest of all. He vests
the sovereignty in the general will of the people and advocates the idea of
"Direct Democracy" as the ideal form of government where the ultimate power to
decide is with people but it should not be for selfish interest rather should be
for the good of the people and the society as a whole, they exercise authority
and decide what their public policy would look like through the representatives
This idea of him can only be achieved when individuals are vested
with the right of Adult Franchise. John Locke too in his Social Contract theory
has talked about Constitutional Monarchy which is bounded by the Constitution
and by the consent of people where individuals are part of a political contract,
where the authority will provide with right to life, liberty and property and if
they are not provided with the same then they have a right to rebel. From the
above mentioned theories it is evident that right to vote and be an active part
of a political set up has been of prime importance since ages.
Background of Adult Franchise in India:
Only 13 percent of Indian citizens had the right to vote prior to independence.
The demand for universal adult suffrage was gaining traction a few decades
before independence. One of the first reports to advocate for "unlimited adult
franchise and equal rights for women" was the Motilal Nehru report. In 1928, Dr.
B.R. Ambedkar testified before the Simon Commission, insisting on incorporating
universal adult franchise into the Indian Constitution.
The Indian National
Congress later called for political equality at the Karachi session in 1931. It
would be a critical step toward making the electoral process more participatory
and inclusive, according to the party. Beginning in November 1947, India began
preparing the first draft electoral roll based on universal adult franchise. The
principle of universal adult suffrage or universal adult franchise was adopted
by India when the Constitution of India was adopted in 1949 and enacted on 26th
The adoption of adult suffrage not only achieved gender equality
by granting women the right to vote, but it also ended untouchability and
provided equal opportunities for people from lower socioeconomic classes. The
principles of universal adult suffrage and free and fair voting are regarded as
"guarantors of minority rights." It also had a positive impact on poverty
By granting voting rights to all citizens, the poor gained the
ability to select political administrators and broaden the scope of local
governance. Increased prosperity at the grassroots level and infrastructure
development are the direct results. The representation of backward sections in
Parliament has also changed significantly over time. The composition of
Parliament has shifted to include members of these communities.
If the enactment
of a democratic Constitution based on the Westminster model was an act of great
faith, decision to adopt and introduce, at one stroke, universal adult suffrage
in India was no less momentous and daring for it was adopted in the face of
equally heavy odds: illiteracy and inexperience of the voter and his tendency to
vote in accordance with ties of caste and creed, local and religious loyalties,
the general poverty of the masses and a rapidly increasing population which
could very well be suspected of combining and conspiring to upset and overturn
the apple-cart of Indian democracy.
The adoption of adult franchise meant not
merely the creation of a huge electorate (with all its attendant problems of
superintendence, direction and control of the preparation of the electoral rolls
and of conducting free and fair elections) but it also involved the grant of the
right to vote to the poor and illiterate which in turn could very well pave the
way for the rise of unscrupulous demagogues. 
How is Adult Franchise cardinal for a state?
Article 326 of the Constitution of India states that the elections to the House
of the People and the Legislative Assembly of each State shall be held on the
basis of adult suffrage; that is, any person who is a citizen of India and who
is not less than eighteen years of age on such date as may be fixed in that
behalf by or under any law made by the appropriate Legislature and who is not
otherwise disqualified under this Constitution or any law made by the
appropriate Legislature on the grounds of non-residence, unsoundness of mind,
crime or corrupt or illegal practice, shall be entitled to be registered as a
voter at any such election.
The presence of a strong governance in a state is cardinal for its existence
because a sovereign state can retain its sovereignty only when it is having a
well-built government and motivated, morally oriented citizens. The opening
lines of The Preamble are "We, the people of India" which means that the
ultimate power in a State resides with the people or citizens themselves because
they have been vested with the right to vote and elect their representatives by
the Constitution of India.
These representatives conduct the functions of the
State in accordance with the wishes and interests of the people. The body of
people electing the representatives is known as electorate. The electorate not
only elects representatives but also passes a verdict on the government. They
have the right not to choose a government again who they believe to be corrupted
and inefficient in governance.
A state constitutes of four elements: population, territory, government and
sovereignty. To strike a balance among all of these four elements Adult
Franchise is important. For the protection of territory and sovereignty, a
strong government and a motivated population is required. Welfare of people is
imperative for state's stability. In a democracy, State is not the end but the
welfare of people is the end and it has also been reiterated in the
Individualist theory which defines state as a means and individual as an end.
This theory focuses on the relationship between state and individual which
states that the primary function of the state should be the protection of
Adult Franchise is of vital importance in a state to erase the distinctions or
discriminations that exists within a state. In a country like India where caste
system, religion, existence of different customary laws is so prevalent, there
were distinctions among people which still exists but is comparatively reduced
with the passing of time. Some people were superior to the other just because of
the status attached to the role they played in the society but the introduction
of Adult Franchise changed that as it placed every individual on the same level
and vested them with the right to vote and choose their representative through
which they would raise their concerns and participate in the political set up.
Adult Franchise and the Youth: An Analytical Assessment
The youth of a state is composed of citizens who make the maximum contribution
to a state's economic growth. Comprising of the maximum productive human capital
present in a state, the well-being of the youth of a nation is imperative for
the stability of the state. Adult franchise empowers and motivates the most
productive and active segment of the population by providing them with the
opportunity to choose their leaders.
When governed by the political leaders of
their choice, the youth would willingly contribute to the state's progress and
align their well-being with that of the state. Youth is mentally and physically
most able section of society, they are the most active, they are the major
bread-earners of their families, they support their children and their parents.
Hence empowering the youth and vesting them with the right to vote would
eventually mean empowering children and the elderly as well. Youth is the most
motivated and active section of the state, they possess rational thinking and
work towards the development of oneself and its nation. So giving the right to
adult franchise to the youth would ultimately lead to the formation of a
government which is rational in its approach and work towards the welfare of the
people and is not backed by selfish interest.
Any law devoid of social recognition cannot be implemented efficaciously for
society cannot be divorced from the state machinery. When the laws and public
policy measures designed by the state machinery receives the assent of the
people, it eventually percolates down the social set up effectively. The youth
of a nation is capable of revolutionizing the structural set up of a society and
catalysing social change. Adult Franchise is the befitting tool which when
employed fosters the well-being of youth while motivating them to diligently
perform their duties towards the state.
Adult Franchise safeguards a state from the shackles of tyranny while empowering
the citizens of that state. It is imperative to note that the bedrock of a
democratic political system is the power vested in the citizens to elect their
leaders who in turn sculpt the public policy.
In a democratic state, welfare of
the citizens is the end while the state becomes the means to that end. Adult
franchise cuts across the biases persisting in the social set up and empowers
every citizen. When people choose their leaders and have the power to hold them
accountable for their acts, they tend to perform their duties towards the state
It is often argued that Adult Franchise supplements the growth of
majoritarianism in a state while endangering the well-being of the minority.
But, no form of governance is free from demerits. No form of political
governance, organization, state is perfect but democracy is actually the best
that we have right now.
Even the functioning of democratic system of governance
might be riddled with complex impediments but democracy is the only form of
governance and political set up where a balance can be struck between
individualism and the interest of the state.
While Adult Franchise is far from
being the perfect solution to the fallacies of the democratic form of
governance, it most certainly is one of the strongest pillars upon which a truly
democratic state stands.
- S.A.H. Haqqi, "Adult Franchise and Democracy in India" 23 The Indian Journal
of Political Science 348 (1962)
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