What You Need to Know About India’s Massive Month Long Democratic Election
India’s election began last week and will determine which party or coalition is able to establish a majority and form a government. The election is also seen as a referendum on controversial strongman Prime Minister Modi.
On March 10 India’s Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora announced that more than 900 million Indian citizens were registered to vote, with 15 million new voters between ages 18 and 19, who many believe will have an influential effect on the elections and tend to favor more liberal philosophies.
With more 2,300 registered parties and one million polling stations, India is by far the world’s largest democracy. The sheer size of India’s population results in a month-long voting period which started April 11 and will end May 19. The results of the multi-phase election will be made public May 23.
In comparison, the U.S. had approximately 157 million registered voters during the 2016 election, according to Statista.
But besides having the world’s largest democracy who are the main players in India’s election and what issues face the country as voters head to the polls?
Media Influence Plagues India Election Too
After the national election dates are set, a code of conduct kicks in for media outlets throughout India and the “election commission is responsible for maintaining a standard of impartiality and a level playing field.” The rules are similar to the Fairness Doctrine, which existed in the United States from 1949 to 1987. The rules in India are in place to ensure the party in control of government doesn’t abuse its power through the media.
The Election Commission became involved in the hotly contested battle between the two major parties, the social democratic Indian National Congress (INC) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), because of media problems.
“The Commission would like you to direct the DD News Channel [Doordarshan News] to desist from extending any preferential or disproportionate airtime coverage in favor of any party and extend commensurate and balanced coverage of the activities of all recognized political parties,” read a notice from the Election Commission of India after a complaint from the INC. DD News Channel was found to favor the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and giving them “unbalanced” and “disproportionate” coverage.
The BJP Manifesto
Although India’s election cycle began on April 11 and will continue until May 19, it wasn’t until April 8 when BJP released its manifesto for the election period. The opening portion of the 46-page document reads as follows:
Dear sisters and brothers,
The BJP comes to you to seek your valued blessings yet again, so that India continues unhindered on the path of development, to realize its true destiny with renewed vigour.
Five years ago, on 26th May 2014, we commenced our journey to transform our great nation and do justice to the historic mandate bestowed upon us.
At that time, India’s challenges were monumental—our economy was in the doldrums, the nation was among the fragile five, pessimism and despair was all-pervasive and corruption was rampant. There were serious doubts in the minds of many about India’s ability to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of her citizens.
But, if challenges were enormous, so was our resolve to build a stronger, safer and prosperous nation. Powered and inspired by the strengths and skills of 130 crore [million] Indians, we converted obstacles into opportunities, decay into development and pessimism into positivity.
On page 12 of the manifesto, the Combating Left Wing Extremism blurb with the “Nation First” section raises eyebrows considering the 2002 Gujarat riots carried out by right-wing terrorists, leading to the murder of more than 1,000 Muslims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi (BJP) was the Chief Minister of the Gujarat state. Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations believe Modi played at least a passive role in the massacres.
More from the BJP manifesto:
We have already taken strong actions to reduce left wing extremism to a very large extent and limited them to small pockets. We are committed to taking necessary and effective steps against left wing extremism to eliminate this menace in the next five years. In the last five years, we have focussed on the development of economic and social infrastructure such as roads, mobile towers, schools and medical facilities in the tribal areas affected by left wing extremism and we will continue to make efforts in this direction.
“A cursory glance at the two manifestos indicates that the Congress manifesto is majorly focused on economic reforms while the BJP has prioritized national security,” states Nishtha Gupta of India Today comparing the focus of the two major parties. She later goes on to highlight the major cultural differences between the social democratic ideology of INC and the social conservative, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) ideology of BJP. Gupta also wrote:
The Congress [INC] has focused attention on creating specific laws to protect the rights of cultural and religious minorities, such as a law against hate crimes and mob lynchings as well as protecting the status of minority educational institutions as well as promising reservations for SC, ST and OBC communities in job promotions.
It has also sought inclusion of the LGBTQIA+ community, senior citizens and persons with disabilities in its manifesto. The Congress has also sought a revoking of the sedition law.
The BJP, on the other hand, has called for the preservation of “Bharatiya culture.” The BJP has reiterated its promise of building the Ram Mandir. The BJP manifesto states that the party will explore all possible constitutional means to expedite the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
The INC Manifesto
In contrast to the BJP manifesto the INC manifesto states in its introduction:
The last 5 years have been disastrous for the people of India. The youth have lost jobs. Farmers have lost hope. Traders have lost business. Micro, small and medium enterprises have lost their confidence. Women have lost the sense of security. Deprived communities have lost their traditional rights. Institutions have lost independence.
The harshest blow is that our citizens have lost their faith in the words of the Prime Minister and his Government. He has given us only grandiose promises, empty slogans, failed programmes, false statistics and an overall climate of fear, intimidation and hatred.
In this time of deep crisis, the Indian National Congress promises a clean break from the past 5 years. With this manifesto, the Congress offers to you the only national alternative: a distinct alternative that is unwavering in its commitment to truth, freedom, dignity, self-respect, and prosperity for our people. We promise to make India strong and united, and a just and prosperous society.
By May 23 the results will reveal the destination of India and whether voters are more concerned with national defense or with social policies.