Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Five judgments that showcase why elections in India are festivals of democracy

These judgments have played a pivotal role in shaping and strengthening India's democratic fabric, ensuring fairness, transparency and inclusivity in the electoral process.
2024 Lok Sabha Elections
2024 Lok Sabha Elections

Elections provide citizens a platform to voice opinions, hold leaders accountable and actively participate in shaping the country's future. In India, elections are more than a political process. Rather, they are a festival – a procession of a vibrant celebration of the collective will and aspiration of over a billion people.

India's electoral journey, characterized by its sheer scale, diversity and complexity, has been enriched and fortified by a series of landmark judgments. These judgments have played a pivotal role in shaping and strengthening India's democratic fabric, ensuring fairness, transparency and inclusivity in the electoral process.

Although there are many cases that bring this to the fore, here are five cases that stand out as pillars that have bolstered the election process.

Right to vote: A fundamental right upheld

At the heart of India's electoral democracy lies the fundamental right to vote, enshrined in the Constitution. Over the years, the judiciary has reaffirmed and safeguarded this right through various legal pronouncements. In the 1977 landmark case of Mohinder Singh Gill v. The Chief Election Commissioner, the Supreme Court of India unequivocally affirmed that the right to vote is a fundamental right and held that any arbitrary deprivation of this right is unconstitutional.

The challenge in this case lay in determining the constitutional validity of electoral laws that could potentially infringe upon the fundamental right to vote. The Court was tasked with balancing the need for electoral regulation with the preservation of citizens' democratic rights. This judgment established the inviolable nature of the right to vote, laying the foundation for inclusive and participatory elections in India.

Electoral reforms and transparency

Ensuring transparency and accountability in the electoral process has been a constant endeavour, guided by judicial interventions aimed at curbing malpractices and promoting electoral integrity. The 2002 case of Association for Democratic Reforms v. Union of India marked a significant milestone in India's electoral journey.

The case presented the challenge of reconciling the right to privacy of political candidates with the public's right to information, necessitating a delicate balance between transparency in electoral processes and individual privacy rights. The Supreme Court upheld the High Court ruling on disclosure of information related to education, criminal antecedents, and financial assets and liabilities of candidates contesting elections. This judgment ushered in a new era of transparency, empowering voters with crucial information and fostering greater accountability among political candidates.

Inclusive representation and minority rights

India's diverse social fabric necessitates inclusive representation and protection of minority rights in the electoral arena. Judgments have been instrumental in upholding these principles and ensuring equitable participation for all segments of society. In the 1991 case of Indra Sawhney v. Union of India, popularly known as the Mandal Commission case, the Supreme Court upheld the reservation of seats for socially and educationally backward classes in government jobs and educational institutions.

This case grappled with the issue of affirmative action and reservation policies, balancing the need for equitable representation of marginalised communities with the principles of meritocracy and equal opportunity enshrined in the Indian Constitution. This landmark judgment underscored the commitment to inclusive representation, empowering marginalized communities and fostering social justice in the electoral process.

Electoral dispute resolution

Effective resolution of electoral disputes is essential for upholding the sanctity of elections and maintaining public trust in the democratic process. The 2013 case of Lok Prahari v. Union of India saw the Supreme Court advocating for swift resolution of election-related disputes, emphasising the importance of timely justice and upholding the rule of law in electoral matters.

The unique challenge in this case was to address concerns regarding the disclosure of criminal antecedents and financial information of political candidates, ensuring transparency and accountability in the electoral process without unduly infringing upon candidates' rights or compromising their privacy. This judgment bolstered the credibility of the electoral process, ensuring that disputes are resolved expeditiously and impartially.

Protection of electoral rights and freedoms

Safeguarding electoral rights and freedoms is imperative for the integrity of the electoral process. In the 2015 case of Mohd Sattar v. State of Rajasthan, the Rajasthan High Court affirmed the right of prisoners to vote, emphasizing that incarceration should not deprive individuals of their fundamental rights, including the right to participate in the electoral process.

This case addressed the logistical and administrative challenges associated with facilitating voting access for prisoners. The objective was to ensure that the right to vote is not unduly restricted by incarceration. This judgment reaffirmed the principle of universal suffrage and ensured that every citizen's voice is heard, regardless of their circumstances.

Elections in India embody the spirit of democracy, serving as a vibrant expression of the people's sovereignty and collective will. Judgments of our constitutional courts have played a pivotal role in fortifying and enriching India's electoral democracy, ensuring fairness, transparency and inclusivity in the electoral process. From upholding the right to vote as a fundamental right to advocating for electoral reforms and accountability, judicial interventions have strengthened the foundations of democracy and made elections in India a bold and robust festival of democracy. As India continues its democratic journey, let us reaffirm our commitment to upholding the principles of free and fair elections, guided by the spirit of justice, equality and democratic participation.

Akshat Khetan is a corporate and legal advisor. You can follow him on Twitter @akshat_khetan

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