In the first elections, in 1951, the size of the electorate was 17.3 crore. There were 401 constituencies for 489 seats. In all, 54 parties contested and the turnout was 45.7 per cent. The Congress party, fresh after winning independence, bagged a majority of seats (364) and control over both the Centre and the states.
Electioneering was a simple affair. The candidate would visit different areas of his constituency. Local luminaries of the party would introduce him and request for votes in support of the candidate. The visit of the candidate in itself was considered an honour.
I remember T T Krishnamachari, contesting from south Madras in the 1957 elections, moving around T Nagar and West Mambalam. There was neither street corner noise nor media buzz. Funding was relatively simple: tapping a few large industrial houses for some modest donations; like Kamaraj persuading the TVS group to cough up a couple of lakh rupees. There was a sense of austerity, simplicity and integrity. No large convoy of vehicles or blaring loudspeakers that have become the norm these days. The candidates were men of stature with proven record and were known for their work during the struggle for independence.
In the 1962 elections I had a rare experience. I was working at the Madras Christian College and was drafted as a polling officer for a booth in Tiruvanmiyur. I remember the training on managing the voting and maintaining the records. The chief polling officer at the booth was a lady doctor, also new to the task. Polling was orderly. The ballot boxes were sealed; I waited for the truck in the late hours loaded the ballot boxes and handed them safely, under record at the central deposit centre at Saidapet and returned home in the wee hours of the next day.
In that bargain I missed out the opportunity to cast my first vote!
When regional parties mushroomed
There was greater excitement in the 1967 elections. With most of the stalwarts of the freedom movement, including Jawaharlal Nehru, dead, with the advent of regional parties and with vernacular newspapers gaining prominence, there was more heat and excitement. Tamil Nadu witnessed an electrifying change in the election campaign: under the lead of Rajaji and C N Annadurai, a strategy was adopted to garner anti-Congress votes. There were also a few sensitive and topical issues: the severe shortage of rice, the anti-Hindi agitation spearheaded by the DMK and the acute shortage of water suffered by the state. Despite an otherwise great record of the Congress government headed by M Bhaktavatsalam in terms of economic and social development over the previous decade and more, the Congress lost. Sadly, even some of the brilliant leaders of the party like C Subramaniam and R Venkataraman, who contributed so richly to the state’s development, lost the elections. The DMK with its battery of powerful orators led by C N Annadurai, the organisational capability of M Karunanidhi and the excellent use of the powerful medium of cinema to reach the masses through icons like M G Ramachandran helped the party romp home with a majority. Thus began the reign by the DMK and followed by the breakaway AIADMK that forever killed the Congress in the state.