The article traces the history of the 61st Amendment to the Indian Constitution, analysing its impact, challenges, and criticism.
In the history of India, the 61st Amendment, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, is a significant milestone in the country's democracy. It was a culmination of a long struggle by young people and civil society groups who had been demanding the right to vote since the 1960s. The amendment was passed during the administration of Rajiv Gandhi in 1989, and it was a landmark decision that had far-reaching consequences.
The right to vote is a fundamental aspect of democracy, and it is essential that every citizen has the opportunity to exercise this right. In India, the voting age was initially set at 21 when the Constitution was adopted in 1950. The idea of reducing the voting age was first mooted in the early 1970s, during the Prime Ministership of Indira Gandhi. However, the proposal did not gain much traction at that time. It was not until the 1980s that the issue of reducing the voting age gained momentum once again. This time, it was Rajiv Gandhi, who was the then Prime Minister of India, who took up the issue. One of the reforms he proposed was lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. The proposal to lower the voting age was not without its critics. However, despite the opposition, the government went ahead with the proposal, and the 61st Amendment was introduced in 1988. The amendment proposed to reduce the voting age from 21 to 18, making it possible for millions of young people to participate in the democratic process.
This paper seeks to assess the context and rationale of the amendment along with its impact and criticisms.
India gained independence from the British colonial rule in 1947, and the country's founding fathers envisioned a democratic and secular republic. The Indian Constitution, which was adopted in 1950, enshrined the principles of democracy, equality, and justice for all citizens. However, the Constitution also had several limitations that restricted the participation of young adults in the democratic process. The voting age was set at 21 years, which meant that millions of young adults were excluded from the electoral process (Kumar, 2015).
In the years following independence, there were several social and political movements in India that sought to address the concerns of marginalized groups and promote greater political participation and representation. These movements included the anti-caste movement, the women's movement, and the youth movement. The youth movement, in particular, was a response to the exclusion of young adults from the political process and the lack of representation for their concerns (Shukla, 2011). The youth movement gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s, as young adults became more politically aware and engaged. The volatile period between 1971 and 1975, culminating in the suspension of democratic rights and processes with the call for National Emergency in 1975, saw widespread student protests, demonstrations, and rallies, demanding greater representation and participation in the democratic process. The movement was fueled by a sense of frustration with the status quo and a desire for change (Sondhi, 2013).
The demand for lowering the voting age was one of the key demands of the youth movement. The argument was that young adults were old enough to vote, pay taxes, and serve in the military, and therefore should be allowed to participate in the democratic process. The demand was also supported by civil society groups, academics, and politicians who believed that lowering the voting age would promote greater political engagement and representation for young adults (Kumar, 2015). The demand for lowering the voting age gained momentum in the 1980s, as several state governments took the initiative to lower the age limit for voting in local elections. These initiatives were successful in increasing the participation of young adults in the electoral process and generating public support for a national-level change. The issue was also taken up by political parties, with several prominent leaders, including Rajiv Gandhi, expressing their support for the demand (Sondhi, 2013).
Also to note is that there was international precedent in the early 1970s when several countries, including the United States, had already implemented this change. Youth organizations and civil society groups started organizing campaigns and protests to pressurize the government to lower the voting age. The 61st Amendment of the Indian Constitution was introduced in 1989 to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 years. The amendment was passed by both houses of parliament with overwhelming support, reflecting the broad consensus on the need for greater political participation and representation for young adults. The amendment came into force on March 28, 1989.
Rationale for Lowering the Voting Age
The rationale behind lowering the voting age was based on several factors. First, it was argued that young people had the right to participate in the political process as they were the most affected by government policies. They were the ones who were most likely to be drafted into the army, pay taxes, and be affected by economic policies. Therefore, it was only fair that they should have a say in the decisions that affected their lives.
Second, it was argued that young people were mature enough to vote at the age of 18. They were old enough to drive, get married, and join the army, so they should also be allowed to vote. Moreover, young people were more politically aware and engaged than previous generations, thanks to the spread of education and the media. They were keen to participate in the democratic process and make their voices heard.
Third, it was argued that lowering the voting age would help to rejuvenate democracy by increasing voter turnout and political participation. The youth were a significant demographic group, and their participation in the political process would bring new ideas and perspectives to the table. Moreover, it would help to counter the apathy and cynicism that had crept into politics.
The Lok Sabha Debates
On 14 and 15 December 1988, the Lok Sabha had a discussion on the proposal to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. B. Shankaranand, who was the Minister of Law and Justice at the time, presented the government's position on the matter. In his speech, Shankaranand highlighted the importance of youth participation in the democratic process. He said, "We should not forget that the youth constitute a substantial segment of our population. It is essential that they are not deprived of their right to participate in the democratic process." (Lok Sabha Debates, 1988) Shankaranand also argued that 18-year-olds were mature enough to vote and make responsible decisions, and that several youth wings of political parties had been lobbying to decrease the voting age.
He addressed concerns that lowering the voting age would lead to immature and uninformed voting. He said, "I have no doubt that the youth of our country are as responsible, intelligent and informed as any other section of the electorate." (Lok Sabha Debates, 1988) The right to vote was seen as an important, precious right by all, and the responsibility that came with it was recognised, no matter the level of education or type of region people belonged to. Overall, Shankaranand's arguments in favor of lowering the voting age were centered around the importance of youth participation in democracy and the maturity and responsibility of 18-year-olds. He also pointed to the precedent set by other countries as evidence that lowering the voting age was a viable and beneficial policy.
Several members of the Lok Sabha expressed their opposition to the bill, including some from the ruling party. One of the main concerns raised by the opposition was the maturity of 18-year-olds to make informed decisions about voting. Some argued that 18-year-olds were not experienced enough to make sound decisions and could be easily swayed by emotional appeals and propaganda. For example, one member of the Lok Sabha, N. Sanjiva Reddy, said, "I am afraid that we will be introducing a large number of immature voters, who could be swayed by sloganeering, demagoguery and even film stars and sportspersons." (Lok Sabha Debates, 1988)
Another member, Shivraj V. Patil, raised concerns about the impact of lowering the voting age on political stability. He said, "The stability of the country should not be disturbed by introducing new voters who may not understand the complexities of our society." (Lok Sabha Debates, 1988) Some members of the opposition also argued that lowering the voting age could lead to an increase in populist policies that would harm the country in the long run. For example, Jyoti Basu said, "We have to be careful that by enfranchising immature voters, we do not lead to the creation of a populist demand for unsustainable policies, which may be detrimental to the country's interests." (Lok Sabha Debates, 1988) Despite the opposition, the bill to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 was eventually passed in the Lok Sabha.
Process of Enacting the 61st Amendment
The process of enacting the 61st Amendment to the Indian Constitution was a long and complex one. The proposal to lower the voting age was first introduced in Parliament in 1970, but it took 18 years for the amendment to be passed. The Bill sought to amend Article 326 of the Constitution of India, which defines the qualifications of voters in parliamentary and assembly elections. The Bill proposed that the words "twenty-one years" be replaced with "eighteen years."
The Bill was introduced by B. Shankaranand, the Minister of Law and Justice was passed in the Lok Sabha in December 1988. It was then sent to the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament, where it was also passed. However, the Bill was not passed in its original form. The Rajya Sabha amended the Bill to include a provision that would allow the government to lower the voting age to 18 years through an executive order without the need for a constitutional amendment.
The government rejected the amendment and sent the Bill back to the Lok Sabha. In the Lok Sabha, the Congress party proposed a compromise amendment that would allow the government to lower the voting age to 18 years, but only through a constitutional amendment. The main obstacle was opposition from some political parties who feared that young people would be more likely to support opposition parties. However, the issue gained momentum in the 1980s, and the Congress Party, under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi, made it a priority.
The 61st amendment was introduced in Parliament in December 1988 and was passed in just four days. The amendment was supported by all major political parties, and it was passed with an overwhelming majority in both houses of the Indian Parliament. The amendment received the assent of the President on March 28th, 1989, and it came into effect on the same day. With this amendment, nearly 50 million new eligible voters were included, which was nearly 7% of the population or 13.5% of the voting age population (Pachauri 1989).
Voting ages in the US, UK and Australia
The United States has a long history of debates over the voting age. Initially, the Constitution of the United States did not provide for a specific voting age, leaving it to the states to determine who was eligible to vote. Most states at the time set the voting age at 21, as it was considered the age of majority. However, during the Vietnam War, a growing number of young Americans were being drafted into military service yet were not allowed to vote in the elections that decided the leaders who sent them to war. In response to this, a movement began to lower the voting age to 18, arguing that if young people were mature enough to fight and die for their country, they were mature enough to vote. This movement gained momentum and ultimately led to the passage of the 26th Amendment to the Constitution in 1971, which lowered the voting age to 18 nationwide (National Archives and Records Administration; n.d.)
In the United Kingdom, the voting age was initially set at 21 with the Representation of the People Act of 1918. The Act expanded the franchise to include all men over the age of 21 and some women over the age of 30. It wasn't until 1969 that the voting age was lowered to 18 with the passage of the Representation of the People Act of 1969. The decision to lower the voting age was influenced by several factors, including the fact that young people were becoming increasingly politically aware and active. Additionally, the argument was made that young people were being conscripted into military service and should be able to vote for the leaders who were sending them to war (UK Parliament, 1918).
Australia has a similar history to the United States and the United Kingdom in terms of the voting age. The voting age was initially set at 21, and it wasn't until the early 1970s that the movement to lower the voting age gained momentum. The campaign to lower the voting age was led by young people who argued that they were old enough to fight in wars, pay taxes, and work but not old enough to vote. In 1973, the Commonwealth Electoral Act was amended to lower the voting age to 18 (Australian Electoral Commission, n.d.).
It is important to note that in the US and the UK, women had to fight for their right to vote. The women's suffrage movements in the United States and the United Kingdom were significant in securing voting rights for women. In contrast, India adopted a universal adult franchise in its constitution, granting all adults the right to vote, regardless of gender, religion, race, or caste. The fundamental tenet of universal adult franchise is the lack of qualifications. The women's suffrage movement in the United States emerged in the mid-19th century and lasted until the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, which granted women the right to vote. Suffragettes in the United States used a variety of tactics to promote their cause, including lobbying politicians, organizing rallies, and engaging in civil disobedience (Norgen, 2009). Similarly, the women's suffrage movement in the United Kingdom began in the late 19th century and lasted until the passage of the Representation of the People Act in 1918, which granted women over the age of 30 the right to vote. The suffragette movement in the UK was influenced by broader social changes, including urbanization, the growth of the middle class, and the changing role of women in society (Pilcher, 2001). The principle of universal adult franchise in India was based on the idea of "one person, one vote," which was seen as essential to creating a democratic society (Roy, 2015). The adoption of a universal adult franchise in India was a significant departure from the colonial era, where only a small portion of the population had the right to vote.
Impact of the 61st Amendment on India’s youth and democracy
The 61st Amendment had a significant impact on Indian democracy. It empowered young people and gave them a voice in the democratic process. It also encouraged political parties to reach out to young voters and address their concerns.
First and foremost, the Amendment led to a significant increase in the number of young voters in Indian elections. According to the Election Commission of India, approximately 15 million new voters were added to the electoral rolls after the amendment was passed, of which 70% were between the ages of 18 and 21 (Ghosh, 2016). This increase in the number of young voters has made them a significant demographic in Indian politics, with the potential to shape political outcomes and influence policy decisions.
Secondly, the 61st Amendment has led to a shift in political discourse towards issues that are of greater concern to young adults. A study conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) found that young voters are more likely to prioritize issues such as employment, education, and healthcare, which are directly relevant to their age group (Chandra, 2014). This shift in priorities has forced political parties to take note of the concerns of young adults and address them in their manifestos, speeches, and policies.
Thirdly, extending franchises to those between 18 and 21 years has helped to promote greater political awareness and engagement among young adults. Studies have shown that young voters are more likely to follow political news, attend rallies and meetings, and participate in campaigns than older voters (Kumar, 2017). This increased engagement has led to greater political activism and has given young adults a platform to express their views and opinions on a range of issues.
Fourthly, the 61st Amendment has helped to promote a more inclusive democracy by expanding the electorate and reducing age-based discrimination in political participation. Young adults who were previously excluded from the electoral process have now been given the opportunity to participate in the democratic process and make their voices heard. This has helped to promote a more representative democracy, where the views and opinions of all citizens are taken into account.
Finally, the 61st Amendment has helped to promote a more progressive and forward-looking political culture in India. The inclusion of young adults in the electoral process has brought new ideas, perspectives, and energy into the political system, challenging traditional norms and practices. Young voters are more likely to support candidates who are innovative, dynamic, and forward-looking rather than those who are entrenched in the old ways of doing things (Nayak, 2017).
In conclusion, the 61st Amendment of the Indian Constitution has had a significant impact on Indian democracy by expanding the electorate, promoting greater political participation among youth, and promoting a more inclusive, progressive, and forward-looking political culture. The amendment has helped to empower young adults by giving them a voice and a stake in the democratic process and has helped to ensure that their views and concerns are taken into account in policy-making and governance. As India continues to grapple with the challenges of democracy and development, the role of young adults in shaping the country's future will only become more important.
Challenges and Criticisms: Was the 61st Amendment enough?
One major criticism is the low turnout of young voters in Indian elections, which suggests that the amendment may not have had a significant impact on increasing youth participation in politics. According to Chhibber and Kollman (2004), the lack of political awareness and education among young people may be one reason for this low turnout. Furthermore, political parties in India tend to prioritize older voters in their campaigns and messaging, as they perceive them to be more reliable and influential (Ganesan, 2012). This, in turn, may discourage young people from participating in the political process, as they feel neglected and unrepresented. A study (Gupta & Lal, 2018) examining the effectiveness of the 61st Amendment has taken into account the age composition of various states using the 1991 census and electoral outcomes of the State Assembly elections. The study found that the extension of franchise to those between 18 and 21 years of age had minimal effect on the election results. The authors suggest that the lack of impact on the electoral outcomes might be the reason why political parties continue to focus on older voters, as they believe there are limited electoral penalties for doing so. The findings also indicate that simply giving young people the right to vote is not sufficient to increase their representation in politics and that more creative policies are needed to engage and represent youth in the political process (Gupta & Lal, 2018).
Another criticism of the 61st Amendment is that it fails to address the underlying social and economic factors that prevent young people from participating in politics. A study by Geetha Nambissan (2011) argues that the low level of youth participation in politics is not due to a lack of interest or awareness but rather due to the socio-economic conditions of young people. Nambissan suggests that young people face several structural barriers, such as poverty, lack of education, and unemployment, which prevent them from participating in politics. The study recommends that policy measures should be taken to address these underlying issues and empower young people.
Furthermore, there are concerns that young people are not sufficiently politically aware or informed to make informed decisions when voting. According to a study by Manisha Priyam and Abhay Kumar Dubey (2017), many young people lack knowledge about political parties, electoral candidates, and the electoral process. The study suggests that there is a need for greater political education and awareness programs targeted at young people to help them become more informed and engaged citizens.
Another criticism of the 61st Amendment is that it has failed to increase the representation of marginalized groups, including women, Dalits, and Adivasis, in the political process. Anupama Roy (2012) argues that the amendment has failed to address the structural inequalities that prevent marginalized groups from participating in politics. Her paper suggests that more affirmative action policies are needed to ensure that marginalized groups are represented in political institutions.
Finally, there are concerns that the 61st Amendment has not been effectively implemented or enforced. A study by Bhanu Joshi (2018) argues that the implementation of the amendment has been uneven across states, with some states failing to provide young people with the necessary infrastructure and support to participate in politics. The study suggests that there is a need for greater coordination between the central and state governments to ensure that young people are effectively empowered to participate in the political process.
Then there is the question of young people participating in politics in the capacity of elected representatives. Simply voting does not translate to increased participation in all spheres of politics, especially when there are new and different barriers keeping young people away from Parliaments. That being said, the 61st Amendment itself did not play a significant role in increasing the number of young people contesting elections or being elected to public office (Dubey and Roy, 2017).
While the amendment was intended to empower young people and increase their representation in the political process, it has not led to a significant increase in youth participation in politics. The criticisms suggest that more needs to be done to address the underlying socio-economic factors that prevent young people from participating in politics and to provide them with greater political education and awareness. Moreover, there is a need for more affirmative action policies to ensure the representation of marginalized groups in political institutions. Finally, greater coordination between the central and state governments is required to effectively implement and enforce the amendment.
Providing a universal adult franchise in the very first election was itself a historic and unprecedented step for India. While lowering the voting age was a progressive step towards integrating young Indians into India’s electoral democracy, the framework of legality has been understandably contested as a useful way of truly bringing India’s youth closer to politics. However, legal barriers completely take away certain opportunities from young people. Removing these barriers is one step towards their inclusion. The 61st Amendment was the first step and signalled a change in ideals around age and political responsibility.
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