6 weeks, 969m voters, 2,600 parties


The Guardian :
India, home to more than 1.4 billion people, will begin its mammoth election on 19 April.

The country prides itself on the scale of its parliamentary elections, ensuring that even those in the remotest corners and highest peaks of the vast country are able to cast their vote.

Voting machines in such less accessible parts are carried on the backs of horses and elephants and for some, polling booths can be reached only by boat. India also boasts the world’s highest polling booth, 15,256ft (4,650 metres) up in the Himalayan mountains.

Due to its colossal geography, voting is not on a single day but is instead split into seven phases across the different states, lasting nearly six weeks in toal.

It will take place using electronic machines in more than a million polling booths, and the Election Commission of India will deploy 15 million people to oversee the operation.

Voting will close on 1 June and results will finally be counted and declared on 4 June.

India’s elections are also some of the most expensive in the world. This year, the cost is expected to hit 1.2tn rupees (£12bn), which is almost double what was spent in the 2019 elections.

Why does it matter?

This time round India will have 969 million eligible voters – more than 10% of the world’s population. They represent the largest electorate anywhere and will include 18 million first-time voters.

More than 2,600 political parties are registered in this election. According to most analysts and political polling, the frontrunner is India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) which has been in power since 2014 and is seeking a third term.

The Hindu nationalist policies of Modi and the BJP government are widely seen to have reshaped the political and cultural landscape of the country over the past decade, shifting it away from the secularism enshrined in the constitution – which guarantees equality for all religions – and towards Hindu majoritarian rule.

As the world’s most populous country, with one of the fastest growing economies, the outcome of the election will also have an impact internationally.

India has become an increasingly important partner for countries including the UK, the US and France, which have all recently signed deals and pursued closer relationships with Delhi as a counterbalance to China.

Why is the BJP likely to win?

Modi’s BJP already commands a strong parliamentary majority after it swept the 2019 election, winning 303 seats, with votes for its coalition partners taking the total to 352.

This time, the party is so confident of victory that it is aiming for the BJP-led alliance to win more than 400 seats in the 543-seat parliament.

The BJP’s position is seen as unrivalled owing to Modi’s personal popularity and the concentration of power that has taken place under his watch, which includes highly organised party machinery and pioneering use of technology and social media as a way to reach voters.

The BJP also boasts a vast, well-organised grassroots operation of activists and volunteers and has its own formidable propaganda machine, operating across social media and messaging apps such as WhatsApp, which in previous elections has been accused of disseminating disinformation on a grand scale.


It is also considerably richer than any other party, and has far greater financial resources to spend on elections, spending an estimated almost 418bn rupees in the 2019 election.

Nonetheless, while a BJP win is seen as highly probable, questions still remain about whether the party will be able to maintain the same overwhelming parliamentary majority it has enjoyed, with a few crucial states still up in the air and simmering discontentment over unemployment and inflation.

What is the Modi factor?

A cult of personality has built up around the prime minister, who is seen as a strongman leader but also a man of the people.

His humble background – growing up in a poor, low-caste family in Gujarat where he used to help his father sell tea – has helped project him as the opposite to the corrupt political elite.

As a single man with no children, he often refers to the Indian people as “Modi ka Parivar” [Modi’s family]. Every month, millions tune into his radio show, Mann Ki Baat, where he talks to ordinary people about their issues and boasts about his government’s achievements.

Modi’s face is also inescapable across the country, plastered across billboards, food rations that people receive, and even on Covid vaccine certificates, while most of the welfare schemes introduced by his government are named after him.

He has also made strategic use of the media to help build up the myth around him, tightly controlling the narrative. He has never once done a solo press conference during his 10 years as prime minister.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda has won him support among swathes of India’s 80% Hindu majority, often enabling him to transcend traditional caste and class barriers to win votes among poorer, rural, and lowest caste communities as well as affluent urban voters and the rising middle classes.

He has also gained accolades for being seen to have elevated India into a world power being courted the west, and many of his supporters say Modi has made them proud to be Indian.

What about the opposition?

Over the past 10 years, India’s opposition parties have faced a sustained attack by powerful state agencies, which has left them in a severely weakened position. Dozens of opposition figures have been investigated or arrested in financial and corruption cases they allege are politically motivated.

Congress, the main opposition party that previously ruled India for decades, is no longer seen by many as a viable alternative, having resoundingly lost the previous two national elections – and more recently a flurry of state polls – to the BJP.

The party of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, it now stands plagued by accusations of being an elitist, dynastic party.

In an effort to oust the BJP, 27 opposition parties including Congress came together last year to form a coalition under the acronym India.

However, the effort was undermined by disputes over leadership and seat-sharing and after several party leaders switched to join the BJP, the attempt to contest the election as a cohesive bloc fell apart in most states.

The coalition have also not yet put forward their prime ministerial candidate.