India’s elections making history

Saturday, 8 June 2019 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

For the first time in India’s history an incumbent prime minister was voted back to power with much bigger number of seats and especially winning seats in several provinces where ruling party did not have any presence before



By Swaran Singh

Thursday saw general elections results for 543 seats of the 17th Lower House of India’s National Parliament, reinforcing most of the preceding exit poll predictions that had already set television screens on fire since Monday morning. 

For the first time in India’s history an incumbent prime minister was voted back to power with much bigger number of seats and especially winning seats in several provinces where ruling party did not have any presence before. 

Indeed, the entire elections had come to be a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s persona and Modi today has no other leader that comes even closer to his popularity thanks primarily to his powerful connect with his voters. World leaders have since been congratulating Prime Minister Modi for his second term in office.

Modi-led ruling Bhartiya Janata Party has itself won nearly 300 seats and ruling National Democratic Alliance reached about 345 seats of the total 543 seats making it impressive 63% of total seats. Modi only needs 272 seats to stake claim to form the government. 

Equally interesting is the fact that, compared to their numbers from the last 2014 national elections, the opposition, the Congress Party led United Progress Alliance, has also improved its number winning 90 plus seats while the rest are won by several powerful regional political parties and independent candidates. 

Last time, the Congress Party had not even qualified to be designated as official opposition as it had obtained less than the required 10% of seats in national parliament. Amongst its major loses the Congress Party president Rahul Gandhi lost his traditional family bastion Amethi to a relatively junior and younger ruling party leader.

But to begin by underlining the unique nature and magnitude of these elections their completion has already made history in several dimensions. First of all, these elections occurred over seven phases during six weeks from 11 April till 19 May this year with results declared on 23 May. Though general elections have usually taken this much time, this was the fastest counting of votes ever. 

Second, as world’s largest democracy, these involved about 900 million voters of whom over 600 million actually cast their vote at over one million polling stations, all of these again largest ever. Third, elections this time marked the highest vote ever cast with over 67.10% voters casting their votes. These included about 85 million first-time voters that saw use of social media becoming the most powerful tool ever. The province of Madhya Pradesh made history by hitting 71.2% votes, the highest percentage ever. 

Four, alongside these national elections, India’s four major provinces – Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, and Sikkim – elected another 534 candidates for their legislative assemblies. It was interesting to note that voters showed a clear distinction in their preference in voting for regional and national parties for provincial and national elections. Three major provinces where the Congress Party had only recently won legislative elections to form provincial governments, for instance, saw a clean sweep to the ruling alliance.

The magnitude of these elections was also unique especially for its transparency, accuracy and efficiency in functioning of the world’s largest election apparatus. Conduct of these elections involved use of nearly four million Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and an additional 1.7 million Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines for documentary record to ensure fair play. 

All these machines had to be transported and stored under high security vigil and this involved over 1.1 million election personal deployed at polling stations and equal number of police personnel to gaud these assets and ensure law and order as vicious and vitriolic election campaigns raised tempers resulting in few incidents of violence and disruption of peace. 

Celebrating democracy was seen in polling stations being set up and manned in difficult desert areas, disturbed areas, tropical forests including world’s highest polling station being set up at 15,256 feet from sea level in Tashigang in Himachal Pradesh in north India. Another polling station required election personal to travel through 35 miles of forest tracks for vote of the only resident of remote Gir National Forest in Gujarat province in western India where Asiatic lions outnumber humans. 

These six weeks, of course, also saw number of allegations and complaints being files for malpractices and breach of cold of conduct as per various laws and regulations including the February 2019 rule book for conduct of elections but the whole exercise was largely peaceful and its verdict has been accepted by all political parties.

All this speaks volumes about the rising political consciousness and interest amongst India’s voters as also of the maturity and robustness of India’s democracy and its institutions. This is bound to enhance India’s goodwill and credibility amongst the comity of nations as also Prime Minister Modi’s equations with world leaders. 

Indian democracy today not only provides great lessons for Indian institutions but also for other democratic countries. In India’s immediate neighbourhood, of course, India is already seen as an exemplar of thriving democracy where even the most powerful leaders have vowed down the electorate’s verdict. This is also expected to bring added goodwill for India’s leadership role in several regional and global initiatives. 

Last time, Prime Minister Modi had invited and was obliged by all the South Asian national leaders for his swearing in ceremony. It is not clear if his second swearing ceremony will also see all South Asian leaders travelling to New Delhi. 

Modi’s first multilateral meeting in his second term is already set to be the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Bishkek summit during 12-14 June where he will be meeting national leaders of eight member nations (including Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Imran Khan) as also leaders from several dialogue partners including President Maithripala Sirisena Sri Lanka.

[The writer is Professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University (New Delhi) and Senior Fellow, Institute for National Studies Sri Lanka (Colombo).]