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Right To Adult Franchise And Role Of Youth

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 that.

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.

Adult Franchise 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 they choose.

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 November, 1950.

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 reduction.

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. [1]

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 people.

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.

Concluding Remarks:
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 earnestly.

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.

End-Notes:
  1. S.A.H. Haqqi, "Adult Franchise and Democracy in India" 23 The Indian Journal of Political Science 348 (1962)

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