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Decoding Democracy: The Dynamics in the 2024 Indian Electoral Landscape

Sacaria Joseph Sacaria Joseph
15 Apr 2024

By the end of the mega-election year of 2024, on the grand stage of democracy, over 60 countries and nearly 4 billion people, encompassing almost half of the global population, would have voted in presidential, legislative, and local elections. India, one among these countries, with a staggering 986.8 million registered voters (approximately 96.8 crores) distributed across 28 states and 8 union territories, holds the distinction of being the largest democracy on the global stage.

India has 2,360 political parties registered with the Election Commission of India (ECI), of which 7 are national parties, 52 are state parties, and 2,301 are not officially acknowledged at a national or state level. All are eligible to contest the election and embody various political ideologies, interests, and regional concerns within their electoral framework.

Scheduled to begin on 19 April and end on 1 June, the 2024 Indian general election that will be conducted through 7 phases of 44 days of voting is not only the longest general election in Indian history but also an unparalleled electoral exercise both in scope and scale. The size of the country, its massive population, and its logistics make the election an event of unmatched magnitude.

The ECI is mandated to establish a voting booth within a 2-kilometer radius of each voter. Taking the mandate seriously, in the 2019 general election, a team of polling officials journeyed 480 kilometres over four days to reach a solitary voter in a remote village in Arunachal Pradesh. In the 2022 Gujarat state election, a polling booth was set up for just one voter at Banej village, located inside Gir Forest National Park in Gujarat, requiring officials to wade through waist-high water to reach the shore. In regions like Chhattisgarh, where geographical challenges and ideological threats exist due to dense jungles and Maoist insurgents, special measures are taken to ensure the safety and accessibility of polling stations.

The 2024 general election will require over 55 lakh Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and 1.5 crore polling officials, including security personnel. This electoral procedure, aimed at electing 543 members to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of the parliament, is estimated to incur expenses ranging in thousands of crores of rupees.

Voting is one of the primary ways by which the citizens of a democratic country participate in the decision-making process of their country. By casting their vote, individuals ensure they choose representatives who will shape the policies that govern their lives. In a democracy, voting is a fundamental right and a duty to empower citizens to participate in the democratic process and uphold a just and equitable society. This democratic process of electing representatives ensures governmental accountability to the populace it serves.

Democracy, as its name suggests (derived from the Greek word 'kratos' for strength and 'demos' for common people), is built on the idea of the empowerment of the citizens. In ancient Greece, the Athenians, under the leadership of Cleisthenes (considered the 'father of Athenian democracy'), pioneered this concept by establishing a system where power resided with the collective citizenry (demos). While some early democracies involved direct voting by the people, in most modern democracies, citizens exercise their power indirectly by electing representatives who make decisions on their behalf. This ensures that the will of the people (kratos) remains the foundation of governance, even in larger and more complex societies.

The Indian constitution underscores the principles of government by the people, for the people, and of the people. The democratic framework in India is founded on the principle of political equality, ensuring that every citizen holds an equal voice in the political process. Collective accountability is a cornerstone of Indian democracy, where elected representatives are answerable for their actions to the public.

While India largely conducts free and fair elections, there are concerns regarding ruling parties, both at the central and state levels, reportedly employing formal and informal strategies to influence the electoral environment in their favour. This has led to a system that some describe as an electoral autocracy. Accusations have surfaced regarding ruling governments influencing critical Supreme Court decisions on contentious matters through strategic appointments and promising post-retirement benefits for judges. In recent years, the ECI has faced criticism for overlooking multiple instances of electoral rule violations and ethical breaches attributed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has held power at the central government for two consecutive terms.

The use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in India has sparked considerable controversy, with various political parties voicing concerns about transparency, accountability, and the overall integrity of the electoral process facilitated by EVMs. In response to these apprehensions, the ECI initiated the EVM hackathon challenge, inviting political parties to attempt hacking the EVMs under controlled conditions. These conditions included the selection of EVMs from the Election Commission's warehouses, appointing three representatives per party to conduct hacking attempts, and choosing EVMs from specified polling stations in particular states.

However, none of the parties accepted the invitation to participate in the 'EVM hackathon' organised by the Election Commission. This lack of engagement highlights a significant gap between allegations of tampering and parties' willingness to actively investigate and address such claims. To bolster the credibility of EVMs, the ECI introduced the Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT), a system integrated with EVMs that furnishes voters with a paper trail for verifying the accuracy of their votes.

Under the leadership of the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is vying for a third term in office. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the primary alliance partner, is striving to secure a majority of more than 272 seats out of the total 543 to independently form the government. The BJP's election slogan, 'abki baar 400 par' (this time, over 400), reflects its ambitious goal of securing more than 400 seats in the Lok Sabha, showcasing their confidence in the upcoming elections. This confidence is reinforced by presenting a non-populist union budget in 2024, highlighting fiscal responsibility and economic stability in parliament.

The BJP's appeal among the Hindu-majority population and in the Hindi heartland, driven by its assertive Hindu nationalist ideology, is a significant factor in their optimism for a strong electoral mandate. Narendra Modi's charismatic leadership, often referred to as "Modi magic," is a key element in their appeal. The successful implementation of many popular welfare schemes targeting the impoverished and marginalised segments of society, but actually encashed on by others, has garnered loyalty and support from a diverse range of voters, known as 'labharthis.' The BJP's strategic positioning, effective use of social media, and focus on unsecular issues like the construction of the Ram Mandir have also contributed to their confidence in the upcoming elections.

The BJP's ideological and religious polarisation strategy, influenced by a Hindu nationalist vision rooted in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), remains a central aspect of their political approach. This approach has drawn criticism for aggravating communal tensions, fostering animosity towards minority groups, and using divisive rhetoric to consolidate support among specific voter segments. Furthermore, the fragmented state of the opposition, particularly the Indian National Congress, has failed to present a unified challenge, further strengthening the BJP's position.

The Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), the feeble opposition coalition, seems to lack the capacity to effectively challenge the BJP and the NDA. Significant ideological differences and regional political pressures within its member parties lead to discord, hindering the coalition's ability to present a unified front against the BJP and the NDA. Moreover, the absence of a clear and robust strategy to counter the BJP's strong leadership, welfare programs, and ideological stances accentuates a strategic weakness within the opposition, potentially impeding its electoral prospects.

In contrast to the NDA, the lack of consensus on a prime ministerial candidate among the alliance partners and the presence of multiple prospective contenders for the coveted chair diminish their chances of electoral success. The absence of a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) further adds to the uncertainty surrounding the coalition's potential governance, raising concerns about its cohesiveness and stability.

The importance of a stable government cannot be overstated in pursuing elevating India's status as a global power. A stable government is essential for effectively implementing robust fiscal policies and strategic economic plans, ensuring policy continuity and fostering fiscal responsibility. This stability is crucial for attracting investments and sustaining economic growth. Furthermore, a stable government enables sustained investments in critical sectors like education, healthcare, infrastructure, and technology, driving inclusive development and improving the quality of citizens' lives. A robust governance framework fosters confidence, stimulating economic activity, creating jobs, and bolstering investor confidence. Moreover, a stable government plays a key role in nurturing strong global ties through diplomatic channels and bilateral agreements, enabling India to strengthen trade relationships, address geopolitical challenges effectively, elevate its international standing, and effectively contribute to global discussions and decision-making processes.

The NDA holds better prospects for providing a stable government compared to INDIA. A discerning voter seeking a change of government but desiring stability may feel compelled to vote for the NDA due to the 'There is No Alternative' (TINA) factor. The dominance of a single political party and alliance diminishing the possibilities of alternatives is the underside of India's present political landscape. Although the NDA may promise stability, the potential impact of the TINA factor on voter decisions could indicate deficiencies in the diversity of political alternatives available within the country.

As India, the world's largest democracy, gears up for its general election, each vote is paramount. Despite the prevailing TINA factor amidst many political parties embodying varied ideologies and interests, we must remember that the electorate wields the power to steer the nation's course and governance by actively participating in the electoral process. Conscientious participation in voting not only has the potential to yield unexpected outcomes but also plays a vital role in maintaining an inclusive, just, and representative governance that reflects the varied voices and aspirations of the population, thereby upholding the core tenets of democracy for present and future generations.

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