Pranab Mukherjee delivers the 1st Sukumar Sen Memorial Lecture hosted by Election Commission of India

New Delhi: Election Commission of India today organised the 1st Sukumar Sen Memorial Lecture instituted as a tribute to the first Chief Election Commissioner of India. Sh Sen had served as the first Chief Election Commissioner of India from 21st March 1950 till 19th December, 1958.

Former President of India, Shri Pranab Mukherjee delivered the inaugural lecture on electoral processes of India and challenges of our electoral systems. Sh Mukherjee’s lecture highlighted the importance of institutions in our National evolution.

Speaking on the occasion, Sh Mukherjee described Sh Sukumar Sen as “chosen to play obstetrician and to deliver Indian democracy’s first crop of nearly three thousand elected representative. Realising with surprising un-I.C.S. humility that democracy likes its mechanics to be as self-effacing as possible, the Chief Election Commissioner became an unseen, undogmatic influence patiently judicial in his attitude to parties but insistent in regard to the machine he wielded”. Sh Mukherjee noted “Free, fair, popular and credible elections are a cornerstone, indeed the life blood of Democracy. Sen, by seamlessly conducting the first two general elections, aided India’s transition from a Crown colony to a sovereign Democratic Republic in practical terms.”

Sh Mukherjee recalled that “The Constituent Assembly of India, which prepared the Constitution, had intensely debated the issue of universal adult franchise. It had unhesitatingly adopted the principle of adult suffrage with the full knowledge of the difficulties involved.” The Former president said “The foremost achievement of the First General Election lies in the fact that it cemented and painstakingly brought about unification of India”. Indian democracy and its inherent power of assimilation has successfully thwarted insurgency and separate movements and elections have successfully co-opted varied groups into the electoral mainstream, he stated. “Indian Democracy has been tested time and again. Consensus is the lifeblood of Democracy. Democracy thrives on listening, deliberating, discussing, arguing and even dissent. Enthusiastic participation of people in the electoral process is the key to healthy democracy”, he underlined.

Speaking about the role of Election Commission, Sh Pranab Mukhejee said, “In my opinion, the Election Commission of India, respected and revered by the people and feared by the participants of elections, has mostly stood the test of time. The role of the Election Commission in the practical play of democracy in India has been simply outstanding. The challenges it has had to face have been daunting. The management of an electorate of over 900 million in 2019 that is nearly the combined population of third, fourth and fifth largest nations in the world, and ensuring fair polling is not an easy job. I compliment the Election Commission for this laudable achievement.”

Taking note of some of the challenges that our electoral system faces, Sh Mukherjee spoke of embargo on the sanctioning and implementation of developmental projects; Disproportionately large size of the electorate vis-à-vis the number of public representatives as also adequate representation of women in Parliament and the Assemblies that has emerged as a major area of concern. Highlighting the importance of institutions, Sh Mukherjee complemented “If democracy has succeeded, its largely due to the perfect conduct of elections by all Election Commissioners starting from Sukumar Sen to the present Election Commissioners”. There can be no room for speculation that challenges the very basis of our democracy. People’s mandate is sacrosanct and has to be above any iota of reasonable doubt, he emphasized.

Earlier, in his opening remarks, Chief Election Commissioner Sh Sunil Arora said “Election Commission of India is indebted to Shri Pranab Mukherjee for kindly agreeing to deliver the First Sukumar Sen Memorial Lecture. There could not be a harmonious combination of theme and the speaker for this evening – a savant and a rajrishi”. Shri Mukherjee, is considered a living encyclopedia of political, constitutional and historical matters. He was honoured with Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, in 2019 for his distinguished contribution to public affairs. “Shri Mukherjee, as President of the republic, had addressed ECI’s National Voters Day event twice in 2016 and 2017. We are delighted to have him back to deliver the inaugural Sukumar Sen Memorial Lecture”, Sh Arora added. He also elaborated that the objective of this lecture is to make a positive intervention in the democratic and electoral discourse, within the ambit of the Constitutional mandate of the Election Commission of India. ECI wishes to involve a wide cross-section of people including political parties, leading constitutionalists, legal luminaries, academicians, civil society activists in it. He also remembered Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose on his 123rd birth anniversary today.

Shri Ashok Lavasa, Election Commissioner welcomed the gathering and Shri Sushil Chandra, Election Commissioner thanked the audience on this momentous occasion.

It may be recalled that Sh Sukumar Sen commendably conducted the first two Lok Sabha elections of India held in 1952 and 1957 simultaneously with the Legislative Assembly Elections based on universal adult franchise under challenging circumstances and little precedence to guide him. On this occasion a reprint of the Report on India’s First Election was released by Shri Pranab Mukherjee as also a postal stamp in memory of Shri Sukumar Sen was unveiled. It is proposed that every year a leading figure, whether from India or abroad, who had made a recognizable contribution in furthering democracy, would be invited to deliver the lecture.

Today’s lecture was attended by Mr. Sen’s family members, grandchildren Dr Asis Mukerjee, Mrs Shyamali Mukerjee, Sanjiv Sen, Sonali Sen, Debdatta Sen, Sujaya Sen and great grandchildren Aditya Vikram Sen, Arjun Veer Sen as also a wide cross section of invitees from National Political Parties, Members of the Academia, Civil Society Organisations, senior civil servants, media persons as also the international delegates who have gathered in New Delhi to attend the 10th Annual Meeting of The Forum of the Election Management Bodies of South Asia (FEMBoSA) & an International Conference on ‘Strengthening Institutional Capacity’ being hosted by ECI on 24th of January 2020.