Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The constitution provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The Election Commission of India is an independent constitutional body responsible for administering all elections at the central and state level throughout the country. During the year a national electoral college elected President Ramnath Kovind to a five-year term. The seven states of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, and Manipur held elections for their state assemblies. Observers considered these elections, which included more than 300 million participants, free and fair, despite very isolated instances of violence.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The constitution provides for universal voting rights for all citizens age 18 and above. There were no restrictions placed on the formation of political parties or on individuals of any communities from participating in the election process. The election law bans the use of government resources for political campaigning, and the Election Commission effectively enforced the law. The commission’s guidelines ban opinion polls 48 hours prior to an election, and exit poll results may not be released until completion of the last phase (in a multiphase election).
Participation of Women and Minorities: The law reserves one-third of the seats in local councils for women. Religious, cultural, and traditional practices and ideas prevented women from proportional participation in political office. Nonetheless, women held many high-level political offices, including positions as ministers, members of parliament, and state chief ministers. No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate.
The constitution stipulates that to protect historically marginalized groups and provide for representation in the lower house of parliament, each state must reserve seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in proportion to their population in the state. Only candidates belonging to these groups may contest elections in reserved constituencies. Members of minority populations previously served as prime minister, vice president, cabinet ministers, Supreme Court justices, and members of parliament.
Some Christians and Muslims were identified as Dalits, but the government limited reservations for Dalits to Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains.