THE 1957 STORY

All elections have their own stories. But the second general elections in 1957 had a historic importance for India as it put the stamp of consistency on Indian democratic ethos. The reorganisation of states a year before the second General Elections had put a question mark on whether the polls could take place on schedule. A delay in polls could have sent a wrong signal and the Election Commission was adamant on conducting the polls on time. It prodded the government and parties and the result was a reaffirmation of India's commitment to democracy. Sukumar Sen, the Chief Election Commissioner who steered the 1951-52 elections, was the hero this time too.

In his 'Report on the Second General Elections in India 1957', Sen says the second general elections were "less of an adventure or novelty" as compared to the first "when even the most optimistic people had felt doubtful as to how far a large country which had only just attained its independence and had yet to settle down to a democratic form of government could successfully carry through a country-wide programme of democratic elections based on adult suffrage".

The 325-page report is a vivid account of the elections, which saw an improvement from the first. The Commission's eye for minute details could be evaluated from one single decision -- the removal of railway engine as an election symbol after complaints reached its doorstep that rural population in some remote undeveloped areas were not familiar with railway engine and they could not, therefore, easily recognize it. 

Celebrating the Indian democracy, Sen penned a number of humorous incidents in the report.

In his own words:

** A candidate filed his nomination paper in the New Delhi Parliamentary constituency and he described himself therein by the name of "Lord Jesus Christ". He failed to deposit any security, however. The nomination paper was naturally rejected by the Returning Officer at the time of scrutiny.

** In a polling station in Bihar, an old woman voter demanded to see "Pandit Nehru" before she would vote. After a good deal of persuasion, she was made to accept the fact that the Prime Minister was not present there in person. It was only thereafter that she voted.

** Uttar Pradesh reports the case of a polling station where a few voters at first demanded to be allowed to vote for "Gandhiji" and "Nehruji".

** In Madras, a voter refused to exercise his franchise in favour of any person other than "Shri Sukumar Sen", the Chief Election Commissioner. The voter is said to have remarked "I want to vote for Shri Sukumar Sen only and not for the candidate of any of the parties. All these parties have been harassing me with their election propaganda for over a month".

** A superstitious voter in a backward district apparently regarded the ballot boxes almost as objects of veneration and was found offering prayers before them before casting his vote.

** Some ballot boxes opened at counting were found to contain diverse objects besides ballot papers such as (a) chits wishing success to particular candidates or containing abusive language addressed to them, (b) photographs including a miniature photograph of a Hollywood star, (c) coins, (d) currency notes, etc. Any cash found in a ballot box was, of course, credited to the Treasury.

** Madras, Mysore and Orissa reported that a few voters had apparently tried to oblige all the contesting candidates and proceeded to do so by tearing their ballot papers into pieces and inserting a piece into the ballot box of each of the candidates.

** In Rajasthan a man insisted that the Presiding Officer should permit his wife who was not a voter to vote in place of his mother who had not come. He explained that it was his wife who managed his household affairs and not the mother.

** A dwarf, only two and half feet tall, came to vote at a polling station in Orissa. He insisted on carrying a stool with him inside the polling compartment so that he might stand up on it in order to distinguish the ballot boxes from one another and then to insert his ballot paper unaided into the ballot box of his favourite candidate.

** One of the candidates in a constituency in Uttar Pradesh had two wives. During canvassing, he was treated with scant courtesy by the women voters who openly jeered him by saying that a person who could not be loyal to his first wife could not be trusted to be loyal to the party, which had sponsored him. Presumably this candidate got little support from the women voters at the poll. 

** In Uttar Pradesh, an old Muslim couple who had reached the ripe old age of 115 and 112 years respectively and were unable to move about themselves were so keen on exercising their franchise that their sons and grandsons carried them on their shoulders to the polling station where they voted. 

** In Madras, a woman voter who was in an advanced stage of pregnancy insisted on going to the polling station and exercising her franchise. She was barely able to vote for she was delivered of a child almost immediately thereafter.

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