Making india’s democracy: Rewriting the bureaucratic colonial imagination in the preparation of the first elections

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Shani's article examines a key aspect of the rupture from colonial rule in the making of independent India, which was critical to its process of democratization. This undertaking was the preparation of the first elections on the basis of universal suffrage. Implementing and planning for the enrollment of almost 174 million people was a staggering bureaucratic undertaking. This article investigates the process of devising the instructions for the preparation of the preliminary draft electoral roll on the basis of adult franchise, in anticipation of the constitution. It suggests that in effect, this process became an all-India administrative exercise in guided democratic political imagination, which diffused the notion of universal franchise within the administrative machinery around the country. This exercise resulted in instituting and operationalizing the procedural aspect of the idea of equality. It also set in motion the creation of a new national polity for India. By contrasting this process with colonial discourses on franchise and preparation of electoral rolls, focusing particularly on the enrollment of women and the attitudes toward other groups at the margins of the franchise, the article explores key changes in the bureaucratic political imagination in the transition from colonial rule to independence.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)83-101
Number of pages19
JournalComparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2016


  • Citizenship
  • Democratization
  • Indian elections
  • Universal franchise

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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