At a time when the Opposition has raised questions on the autonomy of the Election Commission, former President Pranab Mukherjee has described the EC as "a truly unique body" that has supervised "free and fair" polls for the past seven decades.Mukherjee, who was recently awarded India's highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna, says in the foreword to "The Great March of Democracy", edited by the 17th Chief Election Commissioner S.Y. Qureshi, that democracy is not a gift to India, "but a sacred trust".The 83-year-old Congress veteran says the construct of "Indian nationalism is constitutional patriotism", highlighting that of several factors that complete it, one is "the ability to self correct and learn from others".He states that when independent India made universal adult suffrage the basis of elections, not all were convinced of its implementation."However, the successful manner in which the very first elections were conducted put these speculations to rest. Since then, over the years, the EC has been conducting elections successfully and improving on deficiencies to increasing participation in elections," he says.
He also expresses his worry on the abuse of money and muscle power to influence voters during the elections."The spirit of democracy will be subverted if these malpractices are not checked. It is commendable that the Election Commission has taken up initiatives to promote ethical and informed voting," notes Mukherjee.He further counts the "invaluable contributions" by poll panel officials in "efficiently managing elections, improving voter registration, enhancing voter's participation, educating and motivating voters, fighting black money, influence of money power and paid news during elections, and ensuring a conducive environment for people to cast their vote".Mukherjee ends his four-page prologue to the book, published by Penguin, by reminding readers that "the soul of India resides in pluralism and tolerance"."The Great March of Democracy" is a collection of essays written by those who have studied India's unique experiment in electoral democracy, as well as analysts, businesspersons and public servants.Contributors include Shashi Tharoor, Naina Lal Kidwai, Kabir Bedi, Mark Tully, Yogendra Yadav and Somnath Chatterjee, among others.