5: An overwhelming victory
The victory for BJP and Modi was overwhelming. The BJP won more than half of the seats in parliament, and 31 percent of the votes nationwide. Despite the fact that the party in many constituencies did not stand for election due to the alliance with other parties. In many of the constituencies, they won by a wide margin. Apparently many Indians wanted to bring Modi to power.
The Congress party in power received 19.3 percent of the vote, but only 8 percent (44 seats) in parliament. The big difference between voter turnout and the number of seats in parliament is due to the fact that India has an electoral system similar to the United Kingdom and the United States, with majority elections in one-man constituencies. The candidate in a constituency that receives the most votes becomes the winner of the election in the individual constituency and takes one constituency of the constituency. On average, 15 candidates ran in each of India’s 543 constituencies. Usually, a candidate can thus win by far less than half of the votes.
This type of electoral system therefore often turns out to be a bit strange, and leads to many “wasted” votes and unpredictable election results. In this election, perhaps the most shocking outcome was that India’s third largest party (measured in number of votes), the low-caste party Bahujan Samaj Party , was left without a single seat in parliament. The party had a turnout of 4.1 percent nationwide and as much as 20 percent of the vote in India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, but without gaining a majority in a single one of the state’s 80 constituencies. Had India had a proportional representation election (as in Norway), the election result would have looked completely different.
In Norway, according to SMARTERCOMPUTING, people often ask themselves whether India “really” is a democracy. Were people threatened to vote as they did? Most connoisseurs of India do not think that is the case. After more than 60 years of democracy, most Indians are very proud of their democracy and of having the right to vote. Although many politicians try to buy votes, there are also many examples of people accepting the bribes they can and then voting for someone else. Voters are well aware that the election is secret and that no one can be punished personally for who they vote for.
While turnout is falling in many countries, India has had a stable high turnout since it became independent from British colonial rule in 1947. Anyone over the age of 18 can vote, regardless of caste and class. Participation is high among both the poor and the rich and almost as high among women (65 per cent) as among men (67 per cent).
The elections are also very well conducted. The Election Commission is considered by many to be India’s best functioning institution, and it conducts elections in several phases around the country to have control over it. People vote on voting machines with symbols for each candidate and there are few opportunities to falsify the votes. Great efforts are also being made to prevent voters from feeling threatened at the polling stations. There are undoubtedly some irregularities, but far fewer than many might imagine.
7: Implications for India
But what is happening in India now? Before the election, English-language media both internationally and in India were full of fears about what might happen to India if Modi is elected. Other, more moderate voices have pointed out that strong democratic institutions will prevent the BJP’s Hindu nationalist ideology from changing the country dramatically.
But so far most political commentators’ predictions have failed. Many believed that Modi would have a miserable relationship with the United States since he has been denied a visa there for many years, but he has already arranged meetings with Obama. Many also thought that he would exacerbate the conflict with Pakistan, but to everyone’s surprise, he invited the Prime Minister of Pakistan to his inauguration. He has also stated in parliament that he and the government will work for development also for the poor in India, including Muslims.
At the same time, there are increasingly disturbing reports of more censorship, that his government will rewrite the textbooks to highlight Hindu heroes and culture as well as turn the legislation in a conservative direction. For example, the new Minister of Health recently announced that sex education in schools should cease. In recent weeks, there has also been much debate about the government instructing government employees to use Hindi and not English (large sections of the population do not speak Hindi) on the internet. But it is still too early to say to what extent this will actually be implemented.
Modi promised a lot in the election campaign. Now he has received a strong mandate from the voters to implement the promises. But he will have to strike a difficult balance between the many voters who supported him because of his economic vision and those who have supported him as a representative of the Hindu nationalist movement. How Modi handles this balancing act will in many ways define what India we will see in the coming years.