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Elections In India—An Overview

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Voting in India has begun for national elections. Voting will take place until May 13. Different parts of the country vote at different times. With over 700 million eligible voters, you’ve got to figure out a way to make it work. 380 million people voted in the last election in 2004. 

( Above–A scene from the Indian State of Tripura.)

More than 1.1 billion people live in India. The capital is New Delhi. India is divided into 28 states and 7 territories. India has been an independent nation since 1947. There are over 800 million Hindus in India and almost 140 million Muslims. Here are more facts about India.   

Here is a map of the scheduled phases of voting. Below the map is information about different Indian states and issues in those states.

At stake in the elections is membership in the 552 member parliament and the question of what coalition of parties will govern India and who will be the Prime Minister. Here is the link to the Parliament of India. It is also called the Lok Sabha. An election must called in India at least every five years. 

The current Prime Minister is Dr. Manmohan Singh.  He has been Prime Minister since the 2004 election. Dr. Singh, who is 76, may or not be seeking another term. Above you see a picture of  the Prime Minister. He is an economist. Here’s an official profile of the Prime Minister.  Here’s a review of his record as Prime Minister.

After the election is completed, the various potential governing coalitions will assess where they stand. Dr. Singh’s coalition is anchored by the Congress Party. If Congress is able to form a coalition, it may or may not offer the top spot to Dr. Singh.  

(Here is a post on Indian politics by my freind Nita at the blog A Wide Angle View of India.) 

India has many political parties. This article in the Korea Times says 230 parties put up candidates in the last national election. Though not all those parties are represented in parliament.

(The mango is the officially declared national fruit of India. Here are mangos for sale in Guntar, India.)

Here is a listing and description of nine leading Indian political parties at Indian Elections.com. No single party has held a majority in parliament in 20 years.

Two political parties stand out as largest. One is the Indian National Congress which is most often known as the Congress Party. The other is the Bharatiya Janta Party or BJP. The BJP led the governing coalition until the 2004 election.

Here is the web home of the Congress Party. It says it is the largest democratic political party in the world. Here is the web home of the BJP.  Congress is a party of the center-left. The BJP is a party of the right.

Congress is the political legacy of the Indian independence movement and is the more secular and economically interventionist of the two main parties. The BJP sees being Indian as rooted in being Hindu and is less inclined to government intervention in the economy.  

Congress currently holds 145 seats. The BJP has 138. The third party in parliament is the Communist Party of India with 43 seats.  Next is the Samajwadi Party with 36. Samajwadi is a party of socialism. These are the only parties with more than 25 seats.

As you can imagine, it’s a mess to figure it all out and achieve a majority coalition after an election.


The leader of the Congress Party is not the Prime Minister as would most often be the case in a parliamentary democracy, but rather Sonia Gandhi. (Photo above.)

Born in Italy, Ms. Gandhi met Rajiv Gandhi when she was waiting tables in England. Rajiv Gandhi, who would later become Prime Minister, was the son of former PM Indira Gandhi. Indira Gandhi was the daughter of Jawaharal Nehru who was the first PM of an independent India. Rajiv Ghandi and Indira Gandhi were both assassinated while serving as Prime Minister.  The Gandhi’s are not related to Mahatma Gandhi.  

It’s a dynasty.

Sonia Gandhi could have become PM after the 2004 election, but she chose not to do so. If Congress can form a coalition in 2009 will she take the top spot? If she does not, maybe her son Rahul Gandhi will become Prime Minister. Or maybe Dr. Singh will hang on.

The leader of the opposition BJP is 81 year old LK Advani.  (Seen above with Condoleezza Rice) From his BBC profile—

Many see him as a divisive figure who has exploited Hindu-Muslim tensions, remembering him for the campaign he led to have a Hindu temple built on the site of a mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya…Yet at the age of 81, Mr Advani is attempting a makeover, reaching out to young voters who have always criticised India’s geriatric political class and now comprise a substantial bulk of the electorate.

Mr. Advani may become PM if the BJP can form a coalition.  

Another prominent BJP leader is Narendra Modi. Mr. Modi is chief minister of the Indian state of Gujuart and has a reputation of harsh, or even murderous, treatment of Muslims and of being friendly towards business.

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(Above–City Hall in the City of Margao.)

Here are profiles of a number of leading figures in Indian politics.

Beyond a Congress or BJP led coalition, there is a small chance that neither party could form a majority and that some other coalition of parties could win control of India’s government. This so-called Third Front is being offered by parties of the left and consists of some parties that have been in coalition with Congress.    

Congress says this Third Front is helping the BJP and that these parties will join Congress after the election. The Third Front says it will win the election.

There is more to say, but I think this post has reached its full length. I’ll be posting more about the Indian election over the next few weeks. I welcome your input on this post.

(Below—Tso Kiagar Lake in the Himalayas.

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April 15, 2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments