India Elections and Voting System

As a rule, elections in India are democratic, relatively fair and transparent. They are carried out by the Election Commission of India, which is considered non-partisan and incorruptible. In India, the classic majority voting system based on the British model (so-called first-past-the-post system) applies. 22 percent of the seats are reserved for members of the “scheduled castes”, ie the so-called untouchables (Dalits), and the “schedulded tribes”, ie the indigenous people (Adivasi). At the municipal level there is even a quota of women of one third of the mandates.

The elections to the lower house (corresponds to the German Bundestag) with a total of 545 seats take place every five years. The clear winner of the parliamentary elections in April 2014 (election for the 16th Lok Sabha) was the BJP. The turnout was over 66% nationwide. With 281 seats, the BJP not only gained an absolute majority, it also left the previously ruling INC far behind. The INC only had 44 seats and suffered its worst defeat since the first elections in 1951.

According to, the prevailing majority voting system leads under the special conditions of India (existence of a large number of parties) to an extreme distortion of the votes and seats. In each constituency, the winner is the candidate who has the most votes. The BJP won 52% of the seats in the Lok Sabha with 31% of the votes, while the INC won only 8% of the seats with 19% of the votes. The then Chief Minister (equivalent to the German Prime Minister) of the state of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, became the new head of government.

Three major party alliances faced each other in the election: The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) led by the Congress Party, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP and the so-called Third Front, which consisted of eleven regional and left-wing parties. The performance of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which emerged from part of the India Against Corruption movement, was attended with particular interest. The AAP managed to win 28 out of 70 seats in the local elections in Delhi in 2013. Nationwide, the AAP won only four seats in 2014, but it won a new election in Delhi in 2016 obtain an absolute majority.

The election for Rajya Sabha (corresponds to the German Bundesrat) follows a different pattern. Every two years, a third of the members of the state chamber (Rajya Sabha) are elected indirectly by the state parliaments for a period of six years. This is intended to map the power relations in the states in the Rajya Sabha. The federal government relies on a majority in both chambers of the Indian parliament, since all bills have to be passed by both chambers – with one but crucial exception: the so-called money matters (ie bills that affect expenditure). This preserves the Lok Sabha’s budget sovereignty. So far (as of July 2019) the ruling BJP under Modi has not yet had a majority in the Rajya Sabha.

The most recent elections to the Indian Bundestag (Lok Sabha) in May 2019 with over 900 million eligible voters ended after an elaborate and perfectly orchestrated election campaign (e.g. with intensive use of social media) with the triumphant victory of the BJP with Prime Minister Modi, who at this height is the size of a fist Surprise represented. The BJP was even able to increase its absolute majority in parliament to 303 out of a total of 545 seats (+21 seats), while its biggest competitor, the Congress Party, only managed to win a few more seats than in 2014 (52 seats, +8 seats). However, the distribution of seats gives a misleading picture of actual voter support. The absolute majority of the BJP in the Lok Sabha corresponds to only 37.8% of the vote, while the Congress party with a share of 19, 7% of the vote received just under 9.6% of the seats. The same applies to the numerous regional parties. According to official figures, the turnout was 67.4 percent. The estimated total cost of the election campaign was approximately 7 to 9 billion US dollars. The Election Commission of India publishes detailed and official election data (see above). A very good overview of the parliamentary elections is also provided by the entry “General Election in India 2019 “on Wikipedia.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung writes: “A clear victory despite a desolate economy”. Indeed, the election result is a great mystery. However, there is no uniform voting behavior in India. It has to be differentiated according to region, class, ethnic group, gender, etc. The independent research group Lokniti provides the most solid information about the motives of the voters. One thing can be said in any case: The election results show the Indian voter to be a very rational and headstrong person who repeatedly belies the predictions of political commentators.

With the BJP government under Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist tones have clearly increased. The numerous Hindu national organizations, above all the volunteer corps RSS, now feel that they have been strengthened and are increasingly trying to actively shape the country’s domestic policy in their favor. Reshape unmistakable sign of the intention of the Hindu nationalists, the Republic of India in a nation of Hindus, are tolerated by the security forces of violent, often deadly attacks on Muslims who, as recently in New Delhi in late February 2020 to downright pogroms with many dead and injured can degenerate. Or the dissolution of the special status of the predominantly Muslim state of Jammu and Kashmir, the separation of the Buddhist part of Ladakh and the degradation to two so-called Union Territories with severely restricted powers, which from now on the federal government in New Delhi has a much more direct access on politics and economy of this region. And finally, the change in citizenship law in December 2019, which undermines one of the principles of the Indian Constitution, the equality of all citizens regardless of their religion, and is considered a preliminary stage of a planned National Register of Indian Citizens. This directory is intended to determine the civil status of each individual resident of India. This would create the possibility of denying Indian citizenship to many Muslims, but also to other disadvantaged groups, due to a lack of evidence and finally to degrade them as stateless persons to second class citizens. This venture has sparked a nationwide wave of protest. All these actions are accompanied by a Hindu nationalist rhetoric of hatred and violence, which consciously declares Muslims, but also increasingly other critics of the government, to be enemies of the nation and which must be fought.

Indian domestic politics in the years to come will certainly be shaped by populist and Hindu nationalist slogans and actions that do not represent an adequate response to pressing social and economic problems. It remains to be seen whether the majority of voters will readily follow this polarizing type of policy.

India Elections