India Insight

Facts and figures for India’s 2014 general election

Voting in the 2014 election begins on April 7. More than 814 million people — a number larger than the population of Europe — will be eligible to vote in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.

Voting will be held in 10 stages, which will be staggered until May 12, and results are due to be announced on May 16. Elections to state assemblies in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim will be held simultaneously.

Around 930,000 polling stations will be set up for the month-long election using electronic voting machines, first introduced in 2004.

Uttar Pradesh has the most eligible voters (134 million); Sikkim the lowest (about 362,000). Male voters constitute 52.4 percent of the electorate but women voters outnumber men in eight regions — Puducherry, Kerala, Manipur, Mizoram, Daman & Diu, Meghalaya, Goa and Arunachal Pradesh.

About 23 million eligible voters have been enrolled in the 18 to 19 age group, nearly 3 percent of India’s voters.

Key dates in India’s election history

Voting for the 2014 general election will begin on April 7, the Election Commission said on Wednesday.

(For facts and figures on the 2014 election, click here)

Here is a timeline of key dates in India’s election history:

1947 – Jawaharlal Nehru, one of the founding fathers of independent India, becomes the country’s first prime minister. His appointment starts a long period of political dominance of the Congress party and the country’s most powerful dynasty, the Gandhi-Nehru family.

1952 – Nehru leads Congress to a clear victory in the country’s first ever general election and retains the prime ministership, which he held until his death in 1964.

Ramdev: A political force for the good?

Amidst the hustle and bustle of a town dotted with temples and brightened up by saffron-clad “sadhus” or holy men, was a pandal with a thousand people waiting for Baba Ramdev’s daily yoga preaching.

Yoga guru Swami Ramdev speaks during a yoga camp in Haridwar April 8, 2010. REUTERS/Jitendra PrakashAt least 30 million were waiting to start their day with his discourse, through live telecast on an Indian spiritual channel.

Holy man Ramdev, known for popularising Yoga and traditional ayurvedic treatment and also for practising the ancient technique of breathing exercises called Pranayam has been beset by controversies for the last few years.

How to get more women into parliament?

As part of its 100-day action plan, the Congress-led UPA government is pushing for the Women’s Reservation Bill, which seeks to reserve 33 per cent seats in parliament for women.

The UPA has also promised to give women 50 percent seats in local government institutions like the village council, up from the 33 percent of seats currently reserved for them.

That measure has  been in place for over a decade and a half. But has it done any good?

Should the Prime Minister be a member of the Lok Sabha?

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is not contesting elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower and popular house of parliament.This is for reasons of health and also because the constitution permits the prime minister to be a member of either of the two houses of parliament.Like Singh, we have had prime ministers from the Rajya Sabha earlier but they sought to get elected to the lower house and succeeded easily.As the de facto head of the government, the prime minister is expected to earn people’s approval directly.Mayawati recently took a dig at Singh over the issue.”This Manmohan Singh has not contested any public election…he was brought back door in Rajya Sabha and made prime minister,” the Bahujan Samaj Party chief said at an election rally.”If Manmohan can become PM, why can’t an educated Dalit woman.”This is possibly the first instance in Indian politics where the sitting prime minister has decided to stay away from the race.But should India’s prime minister be a member of the Lok Sabha?The opposition, after initially trying to make it a poll issue, now seems to have lost the plot.The question keeps popping up on internet discussion boards.FOR– Those who support the idea of a prime minister from the lower house say that a popular vote marks acceptability by the people as compared to someone nominated to the Rajya Sabha.– Such a person having earned the people’s mandate is seen as less susceptible to manipulation.– A person’s performance as an MP is seen as a necessary test of his competence and claim to the top job.– Some even suggest that a prime ministerial candidate should seek election with a pre-announced team, something like the shadow cabinet system in Britain.AGAINST– The most convincing argument against the idea is that the constitution puts no such caveat.– The upper house is seen as a talent pool where competent candidates are sent after consideration. This compensates for impulsive behavior of voters which can sometimes make “good” candidates unelectable. For example, Manmohan Singh lost the 1999 Lok Sabha election from the posh South Delhi constituency.– It is also felt that any prime minister would work according to the party’s ideology, membership of a house being irrelevant to his policies and performance.– Moreover, the prime minister is in any case indirectly elected (by the party MPs), so the argument of his having greater acceptance may not cut much ice.– Some feel that if the person is a representative of the majority party and competent then nothing else should count. Others say the proposal calls into question the very rationale of having an upper house, and therefore, needs to be fleshed out.One comment on the online forum points to the question being a moral rather than a legal one.There are two facts to bear in mind.In the Westminster system of democracy, a prime minister from the upper house would be an anachronism.Secondly, the constitution review commission recognised the lower house’s pre-eminence in its recommendation that the prime minister be directly elected by the house in the event of a hung poll verdict.As for the practical aspect, the Congress is contesting around 400 seats in these elections, and finding a safe seat for a politician like Manmohan Singh, the sitting prime minister, should have been easy.In March, opposition leader L.K. Advani raised the issue at an election rally.”Singh will be more acceptable to the people of India if he decides to fight the elections and go to the Lok Sabha,” he said.Did Advani have a valid point?

The no-vote option: Will Indians ever exercise it?

Democracy is all about choice and there have been calls to introduce a “none of the above” option in electronic voting machines so that guardians of the election process in the world’s largest democracy can reject candidates who don’t pass muster.

And if this is likely to get sucked into political wrangling – the fate of most pertinent issues in India – some say the Election Commission (EC), political activists and those urging the “sleeping population to wake up and vote” should  advertise the virtues of Rule 49-O of the Conduct of Elections Rules, which allows you to register your disapproval.

A peek into the election rulebook reveals the following about 49-O: “Elector deciding not to vote – If an elector, after his electoral roll number has been duly entered in the register of voters in Form-17A and has put his signature or thumb impression thereon as required under sub-rule (1) of rule 49L, decided not to record his vote, a remark to this effect shall be made against the said entry in Form 17A by the presiding officer and the signature or thumb impression of the elector shall be obtained against such remark.”

Does youth trump experience in the Lok Sabha stakes?

Indian political parties and leaders are courting young voters for the upcoming general elections and the age of political leaders like L.K. Advani and Rahul Gandhi is being made into an electoral issue.

After all nearly two-thirds of India is below 35 years of age, the cut-off for ‘youth’ according to the National Youth Policy.

But does the electorate care?

A number of surveys and studies seem to suggest otherwise.

One nation-wide survey reported in the ‘Mint’ newspaper shows voters may not quite prefer “fresh and young” candidates, with two-thirds of the 17,640 people sampled preferring experienced candidates.

Are frequent elections a waste of time and money?

The general elections in India, due shortly, may not throw up a clear winner.

This could mean weeks or even months of political uncertainty as parties negotiate for power.

Of the past six prime ministers, only three could complete their term.

In this context, the idea for a fixed term for parliament or the government may be floated again.

Indeed, the Chief Election Commissioner recently suggested a fixed term of five years for the government to cope with the increased frequency of elections, which hinders governance.

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