India Votes: Why it is a Big Deal
The world’s largest democracy, India, is going to the polls during April 2014. This happens every 5 years, and the country votes to select 543 members to its parliament. With a population of 1.2 Billion and over 750 million people in the age group of 15 to 69, the country is relatively young. In fact, 232 million people are in the age group of 15 to 24! The median age of the country is 25 compared with 40 in most developed economies. (India is a “developing” economy).
National elections are underway in India, but will take five weeks to complete. Why so long? The short answer is that India’s elections are huge—and mobile.
The elections, which started on April 7, will end on May 12 and are decided by popular vote. In the nine phases of polling, which move from region to region, 814 million Indians will be eligible to vote for the next government—roughly the number of people who have been eligible in the last four U.S. presidential elections combined.
The number of voters in India has grown substantially since the last parliamentary election in 2009, with more than 100 million having been added to electoral rolls—an increase roughly equal to the combined populations of California, Texas, New York and Florida. By way of comparison, U.S. voter rolls generally increase by about 10 million people every election cycle.
Indian citizens will have 370 different political parties to choose from. Although it’s a two-horse race between the incumbent government run by the Congress party headed by Rahul Gandhi and its perennial challenger, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headed by Narendra Modi, other political parties take a significant portion of the overall vote.
Who is being elected and how
Elections for the Parliament (the Lower House or Lok Sabha) is a direct election of the representatives (Members of Parliament or MPs) by every single Indian who is over 18 yrs. It is a massive exercise with thousands of polling stations spread over the plains, mountains, hills and valleys all over the country. Temperatures vary from 20*F (Ladhak) to 110*F (Patna). In the last elections (2009), Banej village in Gujarat (Western India) had a polling station for just one voter! Voting is now done with EVMs (Electronic Voting Machines) and the counting and declaration of the result of the elections will be given out on a single day in May. It is even more impressive when done in a regional neighborhood which includes destabilizing & violent Pakistan, China, and Burma.
Why it is a Big Deal
India’s challenges are immense, more so probably than anywhere else, particularly in development & fending off terrorism — but considering these challenges & its neighbors, it is even more astounding that the most diverse nation on Earth, with hundreds of languages, all religions & cultures, is not only surviving, but thriving.
Here are just some reasons what makes India so special and posed for success. India is:
where Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism & Sikhism were born, which is the second largest Muslim nation on Earth;
where Christianity has existed for 2000 years;
where the oldest Jewish synagogues & Jewish communities have resided since the Romans burnt their 2nd temple;
where the Dalai Lama & the Tibetan government in exile reside;
where the Zoroastrians from Persia have thrived since being thrown out of their ancient homeland;
where Armenians, Syrians & many others have come to live;
where the Paris-based OECD said was the largest economy on Earth for 1500 of the last 2000 years, including the 2nd largest, only 200 years ago;
where 3 Muslim Presidents have been elected,
where a Sikh is Prime Minister & the head of the ruling party a Catholic Italian woman,
where the past President was also a woman, succeeding a Muslim President who as a rocket scientist is a hero in the nation;
where a booming economy is lifting 40 million out of poverty each year & is expected to have the majority of its population in the middle class already, equal to the entire US population, by 2025;
where its optimism & vibrancy is manifested in its movies, arts, economic growth & voting, despite all the incredible challenges & hardships;
where all the great powers are vying for influence, as it itself finds its place in the world.
The Economic Angle
According to various estimates, political parties in the world’s largest democracy are pumping about $5bn into vigorous campaigns to lure 814 million voters – a sum second only to the 2012 US presidential polls, in which more than $6 billion was spent.
According to the New Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies, which follows the election spending, a whopping $4.9bn (Rs 30,000 crore) is being spent on the elections, making it by far the most expensive electoral exercise in India’s history.
Advertising and media groups, the consumer goods sector and manufacturers of party flags and other campaign paraphernalia are benefiting from the huge spending, which is boosting India’s struggling economy.
In addition to proposing that “paid news” be made an electoral offence, the Election Commission has also monitored candidates’ expenditures. There are caps on how much candidates can spend on campaigning, and the election body has also made it mandatory for political parties and individual candidates to track their expenses on advertising in social media, which will be accounted for in the candidates’ total expenditure.
Campaign season in India means it’s also promise season, and political parties aren’t short on pledges for what they would do if they come to power after election results come out in May. From the Tamil Nadu-based MDMK party’s pledge to rename the country “The United States of India” to the Odisha-based BJD‘s promise to “guarantee” development projects, there are plenty of promises floating around to help parties capture, retain or regain power.
As the country of over a billion people goes through the process of voting for the government which will lead the country for the next 4 years the eyes of the world are set on India. The economies across the world are at a tipping point especially the economies of developing countries. The voters and candidates realize that the next 4 years are crucial in making or breaking India as a global player. Everyone involved is putting their best foot forward through promises, ensuring that people around them vote or supplying the finances to lubricate the voting system. It is obviously not an easy task to ensure that the elections are a success in this highly diverse and populous country.[Image Attribute: Compfight]