General Elections


My tour was especially concerned with the general elections all over India that were approaching. But I did not take kindly to the usual methods and devices that accompany electioneering. Elections were an essential and inseparable part of the democratic process and there was no way of doing away with them. Yet, often enough, elections brought out the evil side of man, and it was obvious that they did not always lead to the success of the better man. Sensitive persons, and those who were not prepared to adopt rough-and-ready methods to push themselves forward, were at a disadvantage and preferred to avoid these contests. Was democracy then to be a close preserve of those possessing thick skins and loud voices and accommodating consciences ?

Especially were these election evils most prevalent where the electorate was small; many of them vanished, or at any rate were not so obvious, when the electorate was a big one. It was possible for the biggest electorate to be swept off its feet on a false issue, or in the name of religion (as we saw later), but there were usually some balancing factors which helped to prevent the grosser evils. My experience in this matter confirmed my faith in the widest possible franchise. I was prepared to trust that wide electorate far more than a restricted one, based on a property qualification or even an educational test. The property qualification was anyhow bad; as for education it was obviously desirable and necessary. But I have not discovered any special qualities in a literate or slightly educated person which would entitle his opinion to greater respect than that of a sturdy peasant, illiterate but full of a limited kind of common sense. In any event, where the chief problem is that of the peasant, his opinion is far more important. I am a convinced believer in adult franchise, for men and women, and, though I realize the difficulties in the way, I am sure that the objections raised to its adoption in India have no great force and are based on the fears of privileged classes and interests.

The general elections in 1937 for the provincial assemblies were based on a restricted franchise affecting about twelve per cent of the population. But even this was a great improvement on the previous franchise, and nearly thirty millions all over India, apart from the Indian States, were now entitled to vote. The scope of these elections was vast and comprised the whole of India, minus the States. Every province had to elect its Provincial Assembly, and in most provinces there were two Houses, and there were thus two sets of elections. The number of candidates ran into many thousands.

My approach to these elections, and to some extent the approach of most Congressmen, was different from the usual one. I did not trouble myself about the individual candidates, but wanted rather to create a country-wide atmosphere in favour of our national movement for freedom as represented by the Congress, and for the programme contained in our election manifesto. I felt that if we succeeded in this, all would be well; if not, then it did not matter much if an odd candidate won or lost.

My appeal was an ideological one and I hardly referred to the candidates, except as standard-bearers of our cause. I knew many of them, but there were many I did not know at all, and I saw no reason why I should burden my mind with hundreds of names. I asked for votes for the Congress, for the independence of India, and for the struggle for independence. I made no promises, except to promise unceasing struggle till freedom was attained. I told people to vote for us only if they understood and accepted our objective and our programme, and were prepared to live up to them; not otherwise. I charged them not to vote for the Congress if they disagreed with this objective or programme. We wanted no false votes, no votes for particular persons because they liked them. Votes and elections would not take us far; they were just small steps in a long journey, and to delude us with votes, without intelligent acceptance of what they signified or willingness for subsequent action, was to play us false and be untrue to our country. Individuals did not count, though we wanted good and true individuals to represent us; it was the cause that counted, the organization that represented it, and the nation to whose freedom we were pledged. I analysed that freedom and what it should mean to the hundreds of millions of our people. We wanted no change of masters from white to brown, but a real people’s rule, by the people and for the people, and an ending of our poverty and misery.

That was the burden of my speeches, and only in that impersonal way could I fit myself into the election campaign. I was not greatly concerned with the prospects of particular candidates. My concern was with a much bigger issue. As a matter of fact that approach was the right one even from the narrower point of view of a particular candidate’s success. For thus he and his election were lifted up to a higher and more elemental level of a great nation’s fight for freedom, and millions of poverty-stricken people striving to put an end to their ancient curse of poverty. These ideas, expressed by scores of leading Congressmen, came and spread like a mighty wind fresh from the sea, sweeping away all petty ideas and electioneering stunts. I knew my people and liked them, and their million eyes had taught me much of mass psychology.

I was talking about the elections front day-to-day, and yet the elections seldom occupied my mind; they floated about superficially on the surface. Nor was I particularly concerned with the voters only. I was getting into touch with something much bigger: the people of India in their millions; and such message as I had, was meant for them all, whether they were voters or not; for every Indian, man, woman, and child. The excitement of this adventure held me, this physical and emotional communion with vast numbers of people. It was not the feeling of being in a crowd, one among many, and being swayed by the impulses of the crowd. My eyes held those thousands of eyes: we looked at each other, not as strangers meeting for the first time, but with recognition, though of what this was none could say. As I saluted them with a namaskar, the palms of my hands joined together in front of me, a forest of hands went up in salutation, and a friendly, personal smile appeared on their faces, and a murmur of greeting rose from that assembled multitude and enveloped me in its warm embrace. I spoke to them and my voice carried the message I had brought, and I wondered how far they understood my words or the ideas that lay behind them. Whether they understood all I said or not, I could not say, but there was a light of a deeper understanding in their eyes, which seemed to go beyond spoken words.

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The Discovery Of India – Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru

Bharat Ek Khoj – Doordarshan

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