Indian General Election Voting Begins

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s (left) Bharatiya Janata Party and Rahul Gandhi’s (right) Indian National Congress compete for seats in the 2019 Indian general election. (Wikimedia Commons)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s (left) Bharatiya Janata Party and Rahul Gandhi’s (right) Indian National Congress compete for seats in the 2019 Indian general election. (Wikimedia Commons)

India’s seven-phase election for the lower house of parliament began its first phase of voting on April 11 and will continue until May 19. BBC reports the government will count the votes on May 23. Experts expect this election, with nearly 900 million eligible voters, to be the largest election in history.

According to CNBC, the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament, is composed of 545 representatives. Of these, 543 are elected and the remaining two are nominated by the president. A party or a coalition that secures 272 seats can form a new government. Members of the Lok Sabha are elected from single-member constituencies for five-year-terms, via a first-past-the-post voting system, in which the first candidate to receive a plurality of votes wins, according to the Guardian.

BBC and Reuters report that the government stretched out the election over a month due to logistical concerns. Guidelines from the election commission mandate that no voter should be more than two kilometers away from a polling station, thus requiring more than 11 million officials to travel and set up 1 million polling stations.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is the largest party of India and is part of the current ruling coalition, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), CNBC noted.

According to the Times of India, the BJP, a right-wing Hindu nationalist party, won a majority of 282 seats by itself in the 2014 election. Modi came into office promising economic modernization, but critics have said his promises have not been met, and his leadership has fostered religious sectarianism, the New York Times observed.

The main challenger to the BJP is the Indian National Congress (INC, or Congress), a secular center-left party that has led India for most of its post-independence history. According to the Diplomat, Congress performed poorly in the 2014 election, winning an all-time-low of only 44 seats. It is a member of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the other major coalition in Parliament, according to CNBC. Rahul Gandhi, whose father, grandmother, and great-grandfather are all former prime ministers, leads the party.

The Conversation cited the BJP’s failure to fulfill its promise to create jobs for millions of Indians as a key election issue. Unemployment reached a 45-year high of 6.1 percent in 2017, despite consistent economic growth.

Another key issue that US News noted is the crisis in India’s farming sector, caused by a combination of droughts, falling produce prices, rising production costs, and ineffective governmental attempts to curb the crisis. Modi’s demonetization of high-denomination banknotes in 2016 further contributed to a sharp deflation in agricultural prices.

Despite the discontent of urban and rural voters, a surge in nationalist fervor amid tension between India and Pakistan in February likely boosted support for Modi and the BJP, according to the Washington Post.

While the Congress party is expected to gain seats, the Times of India reported that recent opinion polls predicted that the ruling NDA coalition will likely keep a slim majority of 273 seats, one more than the required number of seats to form a government.