TN Seshan, former Chief Election Commissioner of India, received the Ramon Magsaysay award for excellence in government service, in the year 1996. This was his acceptance speech.
Ever since mankind has known civilisation and has striven to achieve a form of governance that is the most benign, democracy has evolved as the mainstay. In the most simplified terms, democracy is government of the people. And when there is a difference of opinion, the will of the majority prevails, but it is never forced down on the minority but is carried out with the consent of the minority. Even when and where beloved king was the head of the state, the will of the people was ascertained and respected. In a democracy, expression of the will of the people is ultimately what elections are about. This is because the vast majority of the people cannot directly deliberate on matters of the state. And they select their representative to represent their views, their aspirations, their desires, and the will of the people through such elected representatives. It is this process which constitutes an election.
Of all the countries in the world, and especially of those which obtained freedom after the Second World War in 1945, India stands out as the most shining example where democracy has come to prevail. In approximately 45 years after the Constitution was adopted, free India has held 11 elections to its national parliament. Each of these elections in 1996, 590 million people exercised their free will to elect 543 representatives. Voting was by adult franchise without distinction of sex, religion, caste or creed. Even after years of development, we still have a tremendous backlog of illiterate people and people who live in poverty. But none of these have daunted the exercise of the democratic will where the most powerful Governments have been set aside to bring in new parties and new ideas. India has steadfastly worked for the freedom of its people and their human rights and it alone among the many countries which attained independence after the Second World War has been able repeatedly to ensure the exercise the will of the people. It bears repetition to say that these are conducted under the most arduous conditions are truly gigantic in size and yet still they have passed off without serious flaw.
Not that attempts at damaging the process have been wanting. But every such attempt has been met and successfully overcome by the will of the people and by instrumentalities of State determined to prevent abuse.
I deemed this award a tribute to the process of democracy throughout the free world, to the wisdom of millions of India’s electorate not always necessarily formally educated, to the millions of Indian voters who have overcome disabilities of economic status, social disability, poverty, and prejudice to walk into the ballot booth and use that little marking stamp to decidedly say who they want to rule over them. The Indian elections were conducted by over five million civilian employees, two million policemen keeping guard and everyone of them has acquitted himself with a tremendous sense of duty that not one whisper of doubt on the freedom of the election process has been uttered. This is a tribute to everyone concerned and a demonstration, to the free world, that reiteration of democracy is possible under the most difficult conditions.
In accepting this award, I do so humbly on behalf of the entire people of India and of the electoral structure, with the millions who worked hard in order to make the process a resounding success recently. This award will only reiterate our resolve to stick to democracy and continue to be a source of inspiration to all people who love freedom.
I want to thank all of the people concerned for having bestowed this award on me. While this award will be treated as a symbol of recognition of the extraordinary work of millions of people, I personally shall treat it as a challenge to ensure that what remains of my energies is utilized in the advancement of the great human values of free thinking and free living.
Excerpted from the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation website.