India’s multi-phase general elections kicks off today when millions will vote in 91 constituencies across 20 states in the first phase of the polls.
Voters from across 29 states and seven federally administered territories will elect 543 members to the lower house of parliament called as Lok Sabha or peoples house over the course of over a month.
The party or coalition with simple majority (273 seats) is invited to form a government. The MPs from the winning party or coalition elect their leader who then becomes the country’s prime minister.
At least 2,354 political parties are registered with the Election Commission of India – an autonomous constitutional body – for the 17th Lok Sabha elections. However, only around 500 of them are expected to field candidates.
How it works
India follows the parliamentary system of government where the lower house — known as the Lok Sabha — comprises elected representatives. There are a total of 545 seats, two of which are nominated by the president, while the rest are contested.
The party that wins the majority of seats in the lower house will form a government.
If no party wins a clear majority, coalitions will have to be formed. At the moment, there are two major coalitions: The National Democratic Alliance is led by Modi’s BJP and makes up the current government; while the United Progressive Alliance is led by the Indian National Congress.
Who can vote
Approximately 900 million voters – more than the combined population of the US and the European Union – are eligible to participate in the world’s biggest electoral exercise.
All Indians aged 18 and above can participate. In the last general election, in 2014, more than 830 million Indians were eligible — and more than 550 million voted.
Since 2014, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has governed India. During that time, Modi introduced a number of prominent economic reforms such as the implementation of the goods and services tax, as well as demonetization — where all 500 and 1,000 rupee banknotes were unexpectedly withdrawn and new 500 and 2,000 rupee denomination notes issued.
While growth ticked up under his government, not everyone benefited equally— something that had been a major promise during his 2014 campaign.
The main challenger to Modi is Rahul Gandhi, the president of opposition party Congress.
He is a member of India’s most influential political dynasty: his father, Rajiv Gandhi, and grandmother, Indira Gandhi, were former prime ministers. His great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was India’s founding prime minister.
In the last election, Congress had won just 44 seats in the lower house. Since then, the party has been on the upswing and recently won three major state elections.
Analysts broadly expect Modi to return for a second five-year term as prime minister. But some have said that the BJP may lose its single party majority in the lower house and the NDA coalition may need the support of additional parties.
Political consultancy Eurasia Group said earlier this month they predict Congress holds only a 15 percent chance of returning to power.
BJP and Congress are the only two parties with a pan-Indian presence. Voters in a number of states in India are expected to favor regional parties.
When is the result going to be announced
To ensure the integrity of the process, and allow for election and security resources to be moved around the country, polling unfolds in seven phases covering different regions.
A total of one million polling stations will be peppered across India. Polling ends on May 19, with votes counted by May 23.
How will caste and religion affect the election?
Centuries ago, Hindu scriptures laid out a strict social hierarchy based on occupation. In many places, especially rural areas, those strictures, known as the caste system, continue to influence daily life, including politics.
Since independence in 1947, India has struggled to de-weaponize caste.
The Constitution includes specific protections for Dalits. They are at the bottom of the social hierarchy and make up about 15 to 20 percent of the population. The Congress party has positioned itself as the champion for Dalits.
Among upper castes, affirmative action programs have generated deep resentment. Mr. Modi’s party has promised to address that. Indians in the lower castes are still alarmed at how often they are targeted by hate crimes that are seldom prosecuted.
In the last election, the B.J.P. was able to win some support from the lower castes. They got around 24 percent of the Dalit vote — it’s usually about half that. Mr. Modi’s appeal was based largely on support for a Hindu-centric worldview and his vows to run a clean, corruption-free government dedicated to economic growth.
India’s Muslims — numbering around 200 million, roughly 15 percent of the country’s population — remain influential. The B.J.P.’s Hindu-centric politics have alienated many Muslims. And Congress is expected to win most of the Muslim vote. But Congress politicians are wary to side too publicly with Muslims. They are worried about being accused of abandoning Hindu beliefs.
Source – aljazeera.com, cnbc.com, edition.cnn.com, bbc.com, nytimes.com