Here’s a recap of the largest democratic exercise in the history of humanity, also known as India’s national election.
What was this election?
This election was for Members of Parliament (MPs). Each voter had a list of candidates to choose from to represent his/her district.
I thought they were voting for a Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister is not an elected position. He/She is selected by the party or alliance that has a majority of seats in Parliament.
What is an alliance?
Like many other countries, India has a multitude of political parties. Therefore, it is very difficult for one party to claim a majority and “rule” Parliament. Parties form coalitions, or alliances, with other parties they can work with, and they pool their seats together.
Why did the election take so long?
Voting was done in a staggered way from April 7th through May 12th. There were nine “phases” in this election. At each phase, different parts of the country voted. India has been using a multi-phase election process for more than 10 years now. Different districts vote at different times. This helps the candidates who are campaigning, and the Election Commission that regulates the entire process.
Who were the main players?
There were two major alliances: the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) and the UPA (United Progressive Alliance). The major party of the NDA is the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), and the major party of the UPA is the Indian National Congress (usually just called “Congress”).
The UPA had been in power since 2004, and the Congress party has been a part of ruling India on and off since 1947. The BJP (with its alliances), was in power from 1998 through 2004.
Other hopefuls were the AIADMK (a regional political party from Tamil Nadu) and the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party).
There were 543 members of parliament elected. The NDA won 336 seats, the UPA 59. Other seats went to smaller parties and alliances.
The most shocking news was that the BJP won a majority of seats for the entire parliament on its own (282). Therefore, it technically doesn’t need any of its alliance partners. This was the first time one party has won a majority since Congress did it in 1984 under the leadership of Rajiv Gandhi, immediately following the assassination of his mother, Indira Gandhi.
What about the Tamils?
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, Jayalalitha decided not to join either alliance in hopes that she could participate in “kingmaking” or even potentially form a third alliance after the election that would beat the other two. Her party, the AIADMK, won 37 seats, which makes it the 3rd largest single party after the BJP and Congress. Despite the good showing, she won’t have as much power as she hoped due to the majority win by the BJP.
And the AAP?
A lot of people outside of India were very excited when a new political party called the AAP (Aam Aadmi Party, or “Common Man” Party) started showing a lot of traction. They led the alliance that ruled Delhi for 49 days until its leader, Arvind Kejriwal resigned.
The party was supposed to be more of a “common sense” approach to government, and crusaded against corruption.
Despite its good showing earlier in the year, the AAP managed to get only four MP elected.
Who is Modi?
Narendra Modi is the new Prime Minister of India. He was most recently the Chief Minister of Gujarat. Modi is a very powerful figure, orator, and personality, which is likely the main reason why many Indians have rallied behind him.
He is often lauded for the development work he has done in Gujarat, specifically in terms of its infrastructure and economic growth.
However, he has a decent amount of controversy behind him, mostly related to the 2002 Gujarat Riots. Modi was the Chief Minister at this time and has been blamed for everything from inciting the riots to not acting swiftly enough. The BJP is a Hindu-nationalist party and the riots specifically targeted Muslims. In the past, Modi had used anti-Muslim rhetoric in his speeches.
The main thing you should know about Modi is that he is a strong figure: outspoken, eloquent, quick-witted, and dominating. In short, everything the former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh is not.
What does a BJP run India look like?
It is hard to say. Likely nothing will change immediately. It is unclear how forcefully the BJP will promote its Hindu nationalist agenda. Their claim all along is to focus on economic development and aiding the poor. “Toilets before temples” was a phrase associated with Modi’s campaign, albeit briefly.
The potential for internal and external conflict (with Muslims in India and Pakistan, respectively) will be there, but it will likely not become a large issue, at least for the first several months.
If nothing else, the Indian stock markets will see a jump, as a strong government is seen as good for business.
However, Modi can act as a maverick. The most interesting thing to watch will be how he interacts on the international stage. Manmohan Singh was seen as wise and silent. Modi is more brash and boisterous. Only time will tell how he acts around other world leaders. Modi has been denied a visa to the US since 2005 for his alleged involvement in the 2002 riots, but that ended after the elections when President Obama invited him to come to the US.
Congratulations to India for pulling off such an impressive display of democracy! We are all pulling for you.