Quirky tales from 1957 polls: Voter offering prayers to ballot box; candidate filing paper as 'Christ'

11:51 AM Apr 04, 2024 | PTI |

New Delhi: In the second Lok Sabha polls, a voter in erstwhile Madras had refused to exercise his franchise in favour of any person except the then chief election commissioner Sukumar Sen, saying various parties in the fray had been ”harassing” him with their ”election propaganda”.


Sen, the first CEC, had led the Election Commission of India (ECI) team in successfully conducting the maiden general elections after Independence in 1951-52 and the massive democratic exercise in 1957.

According to an official report on the second general elections of 1957, some ”unusual incidents” took place on polling days which went on to add an ”element of humour to an otherwise prosaic and serious proceeding”.

While India had successfully pulled off the ‘The Great Experiment’ as the first Lok Sabha polls were dubbed, an independent nation and its democracy were still in their infancy, with a literacy rate low when the country went to the polls for the second time.

Come 2024, the EC is all geared up for the 18th Lok Sabha polls with the gargantuan seven-phase electoral exercise set to begin from April 19.


According to the report on the 1957 elections by the Commission, colourful incidents had come to light from different parts of the country, from a voter in a backward district regarding a ballot box almost as an ”object of veneration” to wild animals visiting some polling stations, making the overall electorate exercise anything but drab.

In another quirky incident during the 1957 polls, a candidate had filed his nomination paper in the New Delhi parliamentary constituency, describing himself therein by the name of ”Lord Jesus Christ”.

”He failed to deposit any security, however. The nomination paper was naturally rejected by the returning officer at the time of scrutiny,” the report said. An excerpt from this report, listing some of these ”interesting incidents”, has been displayed in a panel at a poll museum in Delhi.

”It would be appreciated, however, that such incidents are by no means typical and occur only once out of a million cases or so,” the report said.

One incident pertained to a voter in Madras who wanted to exercise his franchise only in favour of Sen, the then CEC who was conducting the polls.

”The voter is said to have remarked, ‘I want to vote for Shri Sukumar Sen only and not for the candidate of any of the parties. All these parties have been harassing me with their election propaganda for over a month’,” the report said, quoting the incident.

The 1957 general elections were the first such exercise after the reorganisation of various states post-independence.

After the enactment of the States Reorganisation Act, of 1956 by Parliament, new states were formed as a result of the reorganisation — Andhra Pradesh, Bombay, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Madras, Mysore, Punjab and Rajasthan.

The Bombay State was further reorganised into the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat with effect from May 1, 1960, while the Madras State was officially renamed Tamil Nadu in 1969.

In the second Lok Sabha polls, there were 1,519 contestants for 494 seats, according to an official statement issued by the government in 2014, citing data from EC.

In the 1957 polls, the electorate size was over 193 million, up from 173 million electors in the country’s first-ever parliamentary election after independence for 489 seats.

According to a statistical report on 1957 polls by the ECI, the voter turnout in the second Lok Sabha polls stood at 45.44 per cent.

The official report on the second Lok Sabha polls also mentioned that a ”superstitious voter in a backward district apparently regarded the ballot boxes almost as objects of veneration and was found offering prayers before them before casting his vote”.

Besides, petals of flowers ”dusted with vermilion” were left upon a few ballot boxes which indicated that some voters had regarded the ballot boxes as ”objects of worship,” it said.

”In Madras, an old woman voter was actually heard to say aloud inside the polling compartment – ‘In these days, you are the kingmaker and the minister-maker. Do grant us more and cheaper rice as in the old days’,” the report mentioned.

Among other unusual incidents, it has chronicled how some ballot boxes opened during the counting process, were found to contain ”diverse objects” besides ballot papers, such as ”chits wishing success to particular candidates or containing abusive language addressed to them” or photographs including a ”miniature photograph of a Hollywood star” or ”coins, currency notes”.

”Any cash found in a ballot box was, of course, credited to the Treasury,” it said.

The report also documents some of the unexpected visitors who turned up at polling stations during the 1957 elections.

”Even wild animals appear to have taken an active interest in the novel and unusual activities going on in connection with the poll. At some out-of-the-way polling stations, they were apparently driven by curiosity to approach the scene of these activities and watch the fun,” it said.

In Andhra Pradesh, a ”panther visited a polling station” at about midnight on the night before the poll.

”Next day, when the polling party was returning to headquarters after the poll at about dusk, a tiger said to be about ten feet in length, stood barring their way and staring hard at the party barely ten yards from their jeep. After an uncomfortable five minutes or so, the party was relieved to see the tiger move away,” it added.

A tiger entered one of the polling stations in Madhya Pradesh the night before the poll and tried to carry away a man sleeping there by his leg until the big cat was scared away, the report said.


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