Helena Lyng Blak
5 weeks ago

The Indian Election Begins Today. Here is what you need to know.

India votes: A guide to the key players, issues, and what’s at stake in the 2024 parliamentary elections.
October 2019. Voters stand in a queue to cast their votes at a polling station. Photo: Talukdar David / Shutterstock.com
October 2019. Voters stand in a queue to cast their votes at a polling station. Photo: Talukdar David / Shutterstock.com

Today, April 19, 2024, begins the parliamentary election of the world’s biggest democracy.

India, with a population of more than 1.4 billion, begins deciding its next leaders today, with voting phased over the next six weeks.

Who will be voting?

A total of 969 million citizens are eligible to vote, including 18 million first time voters.

In India’s previous parliamentary election of 2019, the voter turnout was 67.4%, according to CNN, a little higher than the US 2020 turnout of 66.8%.

What will they be voting for?

The results of the election will choose the Lok Sabha, which is the lower house of the Indian Parliament. The Lok Sabha chooses the prime minister, who in turn selects the government's ministers.

The Lok Sabha has 543 seats. 131 of those are reserved for people from Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) which are among the most socio-economically disadvantaged citizens of India. 

Who stands to win?

The most significant character in this election is probably the current prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP won a whopping 303 seats in the previous election, largely due to its popular, yet controversial frontman Modi.

The party describes itself as “integral humanist” and is a social conservative and Hindu nationalist party of a mainly right-wing position. The party and Modi himself have strong ties to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a right-wing, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary organization.

Modi was born into a lower-caste family, but has nevertheless managed a successful political career, gaining popularity through a mix of his charismatic and spiritual public persona, welfare schemes and policies to help the country’s poorest, combined with, what AP News describes as “brazen attacks against minorities”, especially religious minorities, rooted in Modi’s staunch Hindu nationalism

According to CNBC, most analysts believe that Modi and BJP stand to secure a landslide victory.

Who might challenge that victory?

Aside from the BJP, more than 2,600 additional parties are registered in the election.

Most significantly, however, is the politically broad coalition of parties who stand in opposition to the BJP, calling themselves the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA). The parties share the main goal of preventing Modi and the BJP another term as government, and thus “save democracy,” according to members of the coalition.

The most prominent player in INDIA is the Indian National Congress. The Indian National Congress, commonly just called ‘the Congress’ is a social democratic, liberal party, mainly positioned in the political center. The Congress is the historically most notable party in India.

It was the party of Mahatma Gandhi as well as the influential Nehru-Gandhi family (a kind of Indian Kennedys) whose members include former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, her son, the former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, and his wife, the current party leader and possible coalition president Sonia Gandhi.

What are the key issues?

The BJP and the Congress are focused on many of the same key issues such as aid for the country’s poorest as well as increases in women’s safety and equality, strengthening education, and combating corruption.

According to the BJP, its investments in welfare initiatives in the last 10 years of governance have shown themselves fruitful for the Indian population, as have its supposed strides in raising India’s status and influence on the global scene.

The Congress, on the other hand, argues that the BJP has put unnecessary and detrimental constraints on business owners, tried to create policies that would hurt the nation’s farmers, have not done enough to lower unemployment, and, probably most significantly, the Congress and INDIA argue that the BJP and Modi have significantly weakened India’s democratic institutions. 

The opposition parties criticize the last decade of BJP-led governance as focused more on publicity than actual performance, highlighting negative impacts on the poor and middle classes and a rise in divisive and hate-filled atmospheres.

As the votes come in over the next six weeks, the world watches as India, a pivotal player on the global stage, decides its future leadership.

The outcome of these elections will not only shape India's domestic policies but also its economic strategies and international relationships.

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