By Dr. Swaran Singh/newsin.asia
Thursday saw general elections results for 543 seats of the Lower House of the Indian Parliament re-enforcing Exit Poll predictions which had set television screens on fire earlier in the week.
For the first time in India’s history an incumbent Prime Minister was voted back to power with such a big number of seats, even winning seats in provinces where his party did not have any presence before.
Indeed, the elections had come to be a referendum’ on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s persona. Today, Modi today has no other leader who comes close to his popularity. No one connects to the voters as he does.
The Modi-led ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJ)) has itself won nearly 300 seats and ruling National Democratic Alliance has contributed some more to take his tally to about 345 seats out of a total of 543 seats. That is an impressive 63% of the total seats. Modi only needed 272 seats to stake a claim to form the government.
Equally interesting is the fact that, compared to their numbers from the last 2014 national elections, the opposition, the Congress Party led United Progress Alliance (UPA), has also improved its number winning 90 plus seats while the rest have been won by several powerful regional political parties and independent candidates.
The last time, the Congress Party had not even qualified to be designated as the official opposition as it had obtained less then the required ten percent of seats in parliament.
Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi lost his traditional family bastion of Amethi to relatively junior and younger ruling party leader, a former actress in a TV serial.
But to begin by underlining the unique nature and magnitude of these elections their completion has already made history in several dimensions.
First of all, these elections occurred over seven phases in six weeks from 11th April till 19th May this year with results being declared on 23rd May. Though general elections have usually taken this much time this had the fastest counting of votes ever.
Second, as the world’s largest democracy, the exercise involved about 900 million voters of which over 600 million actually cast their vote at over one million polling stations, all of these again largest ever.
Third, elections this time marked the highest vote ever cast with over 67.10 per cent voters casting their votes. These included about 85 million first time voters who use the social media. Madhya Pradesh made history by hitting 71.2 per cent votes, the highest percentage ever.
Four, alongside these national elections, India’s four major provinces — Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, and Sikkim — elected another 534 candidates for their legislative assemblies.
It is interesting to note that voters showed a clear distinction between regional and national parties for provincial and national elections. Three major provinces where Congress Party had only recently won legislative elections to form provincial governments, for instance, saw a clean switch to the BJP side.
The elections were unique especially for its transparency, accuracy and efficiency. The elections involved the use of nearly 4 million Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and an additional 1.7 million Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines for documentary record to ensure fair play.
The machines had to be transported and stored under high security involving over 1.1 million personal deployed at polling stations and an equal number of police personnel to guard the assets and ensure law and order as vicious and vitriolic election campaigns raised tempers resulting in few incidents of violence and disruption of peace.
Polling stations had been set up and manned in difficult desert areas, disturbed areas, tropical forests including world’s highest polling station being set up at 15,256 feet from sea the level at Tashigang in Himachal Pradesh in north India.
Another polling station required election personal to travel through 35 miles of forest tracks to give the vote to residents of the Gir National Forest in Gujarat in western India where Asiatic lions outnumber humans.
These six weeks, of course, also saw number of allegations and complaints being filed for malpractices and breach of code of conduct as per various laws and regulations including the February 2019 rule book for the conduct of elections.
However, the exercise was largely peaceful and the verdict has been accepted by all political parties.
All this speaks volumes about rising political consciousness and interest amongst India’s voters as also of the maturity and robustness of India’s democracy and its institutions.
This is bound to enhance India’s goodwill and credibility among the comity of nations as also Prime Minister Modi’s equation with world leaders. Indian democracy today not only provides great lessons for Indian institutions but also for other democratic countries.
In the immediate neighborhood, India is already seen as an exemplar of democracy where even the most powerful leaders have bowed to the electorate’s verdict. This is also expected to bring added goodwill for India’s leadership role in several regional and global initiatives.
The last time, Prime Minister Modi had invited all South Asian national leaders for his swearing in ceremony. It is not known if his second swearing ceremony will also see all South Asian leaders traveling to New Delhi.
Modi’s first multilateral meeting in his second term is already set to be the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s Bishkek summit from June 12 to 14, where he will be meeting national leaders of eight member nations (including Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Imran Khan) and also leaders from several dialogue partners including President Maithripala Sirisena of Sri Lanka.
(The author is Professor of International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University and senior fellow, Institute for National Studies Studies Sri Lanka (Colombo).