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India – The big fat Indian Election!

Introduction

2019 will compose the “Indian general elections” to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha. The first half of the 2019, the media keeps focusing on basically two questions – “How will Rahul Gandhi deliver people’s expectations? and How will Narendra Modi continue his reign as the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy. Yes, India is the largest democracy in the world having over 800 Million electoral population ready to elect their leader for this vast nation.

Analysing elections in India always remains a bootless attempt because of the non-congruent results from opinion polls and the actual exit polls. It is still a challenge for great analysts to understand the dynamics of this Big Fat election.

Previous Election – the previous general election was held for 16th Lok Sabha in the 2014 which was won by National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) under the leadership of the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi by defeating the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by Indian National Congress (Congress). In the previous general election Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) gained 282 parliamentary seats and Indian National Congress (Congress) gained 44.

The Working of the Indian Electoral System

As this vast nation heads to the polls in a couple of months. It necessary to understand what’s at stake and how the Indian General Election works, it’s worth sitting back and understanding the electoral system its protocols which keeps the Indian democracy leaping forward. India’s electoral system can appear maze like to outsiders, but the electoral system that allows over 800 million citizens to elect their next government is actually rather a five-finger exercise.

At the very core, India's government is based on Federalism, like the elected officials are appointed at federal, state and local levels. The election results are determined by first-past-the-post electoral system. Elections in the Republic of India constitution include elections for the Parliament, Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha, the Legislative Assemblies, and numerous other Councils and local bodies.

The Election Commission of India – is an autonomous entity prescribed in the Constitution of India. It is the federal authority responsible for administering all the electoral processes of India and ensuring fairness at any stage of the process. The standard practices followed by the Election commission are, the polling is held between 7:00 am and 6:00 pm, the Collector of each district is in charge of polling, Government employees are employed as poll officers at the polling stations, Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) are being used instead of ballot boxes to prevent election fraud and after the citizen votes his or her left index finger is marked with an indelible ink. This practice was instituted in 1962. Eligible voters must be Indian citizens, 18 or older, an ordinary resident of the polling area of the constituency and possess a valid voter identification card issued by the Election Commission of India.
The Parliament has a sanctioned strength of 545 in Lok Sabha including the 2 nominees from the Anglo-Indian Community by the President, and 245 in Rajya Sabha including the 12 nominees from the expertise of different fields of science, culture, art and history. According to Constitution of India, elections for the Parliament and the State Legislative Assemblies should take place every five years, unless a state of emergency has been declared. The election for the Rajya Sabha should take place every two years.

The Prime Minister of India is elected by members of the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament. In practice, 545 members of the Lok Sabha are elected every five years and a total of 272 seats are required for a majority for a party or an alliance to win the elections. Should no independent party possess a simple majority, then different parties will form coalitions until they acquire the requisite number of seats to elect a prime minister successfully. However, no independent party has won a simple majority in India since 1989, ensuring that coalitions have played a major role in electing the Prime minister. The two major coalitions in India are The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition led by the Indian National Congress and The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition led by the Bhartiya Janata Party. Coalition politicking generally takes place after election results have been announced. This concludes the short brief of the working of the Indian electoral system.

What is expected?

Current trend shows Modi has a 50-50 chance of returning to power while Rahul Gandhi’s chances are somewhat less. But, predicting elections in India is a futile activity because the Voters simply do not tell the truth to pollsters. So, predicting elections has become an entertaining game rather than serious analysis. Now the so-called analysts predict the elections like a crowd of quasi astrologers.

Here goes, chances of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), that is BJP and allies, winning outright is 10%. Chances of Modi cobbling together a coalition government post-election is 40%. Chances of a Congress-led government is 30%. Chances of a Third Front government with Congress participation or outside support is 20%. In sum, Modi has a 50-50 chance of returning to power. Rahul Gandhi’s chances are somewhat less. And Third Front aspirants should not lose hope.

Modi sold voters a fabulous dream, promising good governance and a dynamic economy that would create jobs for all. In reality, Modi has failed to accelerate the economy or create the promised jobs for all. Recent state elections reveal voters in a sour anti-incumbent mood, and in 2019, the NDA will be the incumbent. It has lost two allies, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Shiv Sena, though the latter may re-join reluctantly before the election. Many regional parties that fought on their own in 2014 are likely to form anti-BJP fronts in 2019.

Conclusion

However, even if the NDA wins two-third of the seats in the Hind belt (a linguistic region with majority of Hindi speaking population) that will be far less than the 85% it won in 2014, translating into a loss of 55 seats. In Andhra Pradesh, the BJP has lost the Telugu Desam Party as its ally. It has no serious ally in Tamil Nadu or Kerala. Maybe it can win some additional seats in the northeast, West Bengal and Odisha. But on balance, it is headed for a big seat decline.

In 2014, the seat tally of the NDA — minus the Shiv Sena and TDP, which have exited — was 302. To win in 2019, it cannot afford to lose more than 30 seats. If it loses 50 seats, it will be within handshaking distance of a majority, and should be able to cobble together a majority coalition with minor parties. But if it loses more than 60-70 seats, other parties will have a big lead. They will either support a Congress-led government, or form a Third Front government with Congress support.

In a hung Parliament, some analysts think that regional parties will offer to support the BJP provided it ditches Modi for some other leaders from NDA coalition or the BJP lead by Modi would rather sit in the Opposition and watch an unstable Third Front coalition collapse after a year or two. Scheming days lie ahead.