Mansoor Akbar Kundi
INDIA is a biggest democracy. Elections in India have been held without an abruption since independence. They are held for federal, state and local bodies from time to time. The elections for Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Indian Parliament, is a marathon race. In a political science analysis, it is probably the single largest political exercise in the world in which slightly less than a billion voters participate. So far a total of 18 general elections have been held in India since independence, first being held in May 1951. In 2019 elections which was completed in 7 phases within a duration of more than a month, around 900 million voters participated in the process of electing 545-member house; 543 are elected and two nominated. The number of participant political parties and candidates in the elections is the highest in the world. According to the election results so far the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as expected has once again swept the election by securing 327 seats, 50 more than required 272 majority for a party to form government. Indian National Congress (INC) which lagged behind 55, even the required number for a party to be declared officially an opposition, secured around 105. (Provisional results).
The factors shaping the elections in India are multi-factor, not one but many factors shape the elections. India being a federation based on parliamentary form of government which is modelled strongly after the British Parliamentary system with the lower house as more politically stronger. The general elections for Lok Sabha are held after each 5 years at the successful expiration of the tenure of the lower house. The major factor shaping general elections since independence is political which provides a major support for a political party’s access to power. Party politics has always been active and dominant in Indian elections with all volatile and manoeuvring tactics. Elections in India have shown by dominant party trends as far as seats in the Lok Sabha are concerned which ultimate has an influence on the upper house elections which are indirect. By dominant party semblance it means that political parties in large have failed to make a close comeback. Opposition is always weak and the one in Parliament has more than simply majority.
INC remained under the hereditary leadership of Nehru and Indira Gandhi dominated Indian politics inside and outside Parliament. It won the first four elections consecutively which were held in 1951, 57, 62, and 67. In 1977 elections it was reduced to only 153 seats. The Janata Party’s candidate Morarji Desai became a coalition prime minister. Indira Gandhi returned to Lok Sabha as the Opposition Leader. Elections held earlier in 1980 led to the return of INC under Indira. Party leadership plays a very important role in the final destination of a party to power in Indian politics. It will not be an exaggeration that Indian politics, particularly at the centre level is broadly influenced by leadership stigma. Jawaharlal Nehru being the founding father and charismatic leader dominated Congress Party in its likes and dislikes. Many important decisions taken on the party platform were initiated under his command. He remained Prime Minister for 17 years without giving anybody the portfolio of foreign affairs and single handedly took important decisions. In democratic orders with representative systems political parties play a role with leadership phenomenon is largely collectively, but in India it has been predominantly singly headed of which N. D. Modi is a proof. Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP)has been greatly under the influence of Modi’s personality. After Nehru and Indira, Modi is the third leader in Indian political history to threshold the elections with his personality.
Religion also plays a role in Indian elections. India being a largest democracy was marked with trends of secularism which reflected positively on its societal structure which is multi-ethnic, sectarian and lingual. The INC leadership under Nehru was highly secular and promoted secular trends. In the heyday of communism Nehru is on record saying that greater threat to Indian democracy and society comes not from communism but communalism. However, religious factor was not much conspicuous and used until the emergence of BJP on national scene with Hindutva as the stepping stone of their rise to power. Hindutva has posed threats to religious minorities in India, particularly Muslims which constitute around 200 million in India. Muslims are second largest community in India, followed by Christians and Sikhs. Sikhs demographically are smaller than Christians in India. Personal basis of support for a candidate play also an important role in the elections. Political parties while contesting a candidate on its party platform evaluates his/her social and ideological status in the area. Unlike Pakistan, elections in India are not highly money oriented, nevertheless, social status and capacity of a candidate to sustain the expenses of elections and appeal to voters is scrutinized by party. Also, Indian elections are gender biased. No matter seats in Lok Sabha a considerable number of seats (131) are designated for scheduled castes and tribes, but fewer of them are allotted to female candidates. Regional and global factors indirectly influence elections in democratic countries, but in case of India it is not evident that they influence much. India-Pakistan tension situation with BJP showing a hawkish attitude however seems to have gained credit.
— The writer is a former VC and currently Professor in Deptt of Politics & IR in IIUI.
Mansoor Akbar Kundi