909,917,469 electors vote for a new India: World’s largest democracy at work by Himanshu Shekhar Mishra
SOAS South Asia Institute Scholars on the Indian Elections 2019
The world’s largest-ever electoral exercise got underway on 11th April 2019 when millions of Indian voters turned out to cast their votes in the first phase of general elections. Polls are being held in seven phases spread over 39 days between April 11th and May 19th, 2019. This week, India enters the fourth phase of the polls.
The body of electors in General Elections 2019 comprises of a total of 909,917,469 (909.9 million) qualified voters which is the highest ever in an Indian election. It is around 165 million more than the entire population of Europe. In fact, around 76 million new voters have been added in the body of electors since the last general elections in 2014, that is, ten million more than the population of the United Kingdom. The latest Election Commission data shows the total number of first-time voters is 19,027,875 (19 million). A record number of 17.4 lakh Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) units and 39.6 lakh Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) are in operation across 10,35,928 polling stations. The total number of registered parties in 2019 is a mammoth 2294, a significant jump over the last general elections in 2014 when 1687 registered political parties contested the polls. It shows that Indian politics is becoming an increasingly competitive space.
As different regions of India vote, a lot is at stake for the future of Indian democracy. Several important regional parties have cobbled up alliances and seat-sharing arrangements to consolidate their performance. The coming together of erstwhile arch rivals – Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh for the first time since 1993 is the most talked about political development in the run-up to the 2019 elections. Both the main ruling coalition – National Democratic Alliance led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance have also added new alliance partners. Both the regional and smaller parties could play a crucial role in forming the government after the results are announced on May 23rd, 2019 if India throws up a hung mandate.
Political Parties have promised to rebuild India by offering populist promises which includes doubling farmers’ income by 2022, creation of millions of employment opportunities for growing young population, doubling the length of the national highways to loan waiver of farmers, strengthening the national security architecture, a basic universal income scheme, a special Budget for Farmers, a Right to Healthcare Act among others. It is a political battle to construct a new India, an India which is more resilient, safe and strong.
Contrasting pictures emerge tearing the fabric of a development agenda in the face of criminal appropriations. Indian politics has always grappled with the challenge of candidates with criminal antecedents jumping into the electoral arena and the increasing use of money and muscle power to influence the election outcomes. Violence has impacted on gender balance in electoral representation. Significantly, the percentage of women candidates contesting is an abysmal 8% in the first four phases – with only 448 women candidates fielded by political parties. According to the election watchdog Association of Democratic Reforms, out of the total 5478 candidates in fray in the first four-phase of polls, 1014 (19%) candidates have declared criminal cases in their election affidavits.
There have been disturbing attempts to polarise the electorate on communal lines through hate speeches. Social Media platform ‘ShareChat’ reported it had pulled down 4-lakh public posts for violating its community guidelines since February 2019. The use of black money and illegal and unfair means to influence the voters have more than doubled since 2014. As of 27th April 2019, goods worth 3205.72 crore rupees (1 crore =10 million) have been seized by the Election Commission, compared to 1200 crores of total seizure during the 2014 elections. The most worrying trend is the seizure of drugs and narcotics. As per the latest data released by Election Commission, the total economic value of drugs and narcotics seized is 1185.41 crore rupees after three phases of polls. The economic value of other items seized is as follows: Cash worth Rs. 778.90 crores, Precious Metals (Gold etc.) worth Rs. 945.78, 132.66 lakh litres of liquor worth Rs 244.35 crores among others. In fact, the attempt to bribe voters with cash and gold was so high in Vellore constituency in Tamil Nadu that Election Commission was forced to cancel the polls there.
The world is watching vigilantly as India enters the fourth phase of the poll this week. The numbers speak for themselves, reflecting not only democracy’s demography but a graphic and complex data. Indians are faced with vast streams of data, regurgitated by political
parties, that can be dissuasive or persuasive for the electorate:
Rajeev Tiwari works as a security guard in P.N.N. Mohan Public School in Ghaziabad, a city situated in the National Capital Region of Delhi. As he guides voters to the polling booth situated inside the school, Rajeev is excited at the opportunity to visit Patna, his hometown situated around a thousand kilometres from Delhi, to cast his own vote as well. He tells me, “I live with fellow migrant workers from our hometown Patna in Bihar. We have all decided to take leave from work so that we can exercise our franchise. I have even decided whom to vote for!”
Such enthusiasm among the electorate has been visible across India, voters willing to travel the distance, slicing labour time and money to reach their hometown, their own small world of regional power, to hope for the future translated readily to inflatable numbers and targets. Traditionally, Lok Sabha elections have been fought on big national data, but this election sees the most complex interplay between region and country as state-level politics field a competing image.
Himanshu Shekhar Mishra works as Editor (Government Affairs) in New Delhi Television (NDTV India) covering developments in Government, Politics, Parliamentary Affairs, Internal Security and Disaster Management for more than eighteen years. He is currently working on a Code of Conduct for disaster reporting.