Chief Justice of India (CJI) D.Y. Chandrachud on Friday said that power resides with the citizens in a true democracy through their electoral mandate.
The CJI was addressing the 8th Dr L M Singhvi Memorial Lecture hosted by the OP Jindal Global University (JGU), on the theme ‘Universal Adult Franchise: Translating India’s Political Transformation into a Social Transformation’.
Justice Chandrachud said, “In India, we find a historic social system in which power was concentrated in the hands of the upper class of society. The rights which we now consider as universal were not universal all the time. They were denied to the oppressed. Unfortunately, the exercise of democracy was used to retain power by the few the right to vote was controlled and exercised by only those individuals who had already succeeded in society because of their social power and cultural capital.”
“For instance, the right to vote was exercised only by those who had certain properties or educational institutions or qualifications which one the result of not their individual effort but were a reflection of the influence
and hegemony their communities had on society. As a result, the idea of democracy itself was controlled by the elites of society. Voting rights were denied to women and members of the marginalized communities because the elite did not want to share the power with them,” the CJI added.
Justice Chandrachud said, “The idea of a universal adult franchise is not just a political idea, it’s a social idea and vision at its core. The introduction of universal adult franchise was truly a revolutionary idea at the time when such a right had recently been extended to women, people of color, working class in supposedly mature western democracies.”
“In this regard, our Constitution was a feminist document as well as an egalitarian and socially transformative document, it was a break from the colonial and pre-colonial legacy. The boldest move adopted by the Indian constitution that was a product of Indian imagination. Universal Adult Franchise was a solid determination of India’s founding leaders to create a democratic state. The Indian experiment with the Universal Adult Franchise contradicts all myths against it. Therefore, we must reject every form of elite understanding of the democratic process which we keep hearing constantly that only educated are better decision makers,” he said.
He added how Indian social leaders, such as Jyotiba and Savitribai Phule, coming from the marginalized communities demanded equal citizenship for the oppressed and started initiatives that could educate the masses about their rights. He spoke about the idea of universal adult franchise was deliberated and included in the constitutional discourse, leading to the drafting of India’s constitution, as well as how the idea of Panchayati Raj along with UAF led to the deepening of India’s democracy.