Voting has already begun in the Indian election, where 900 million people are eligible to have their say on who will lead their nation. The incumbent government, led by Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party, swept to a stunning landslide victory in 2014 to form a majority.
Modi has leaned on his record of strength against Pakistan for the crux of his reelection campaign, with the recent skirmishes in Kashmir earlier this year touted as successes, not to mention the 2016 surgical strike in PoK after the Uri attack by militants which martyred 17 Indian soldiers.
The historic Indian National Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, look to end the five-year BJP rule and return India’s first family to power. 48-year-old Gandhi, who took over leadership from his mother Sonia in 2017, is in many ways born to be Prime Minister, and has had to play down suggestions of nepotism and entitlement, with some parts of India tired of Gandhi-led ministries.
His great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the country’s first leader after independence in 1947, whilst his father and grandmother both ascended to the highest office in the land. The latter two were both assassinated, with Rahul unfazed by his tragic family history and bidding to become leader.
What have been the main talking points?
Modi has come under fire from the opposition for his poor record on corruption, with cleaning up the government a key pledge in his 2014 win.
The 68-year-old has led a heightened nationalist campaign, playing on religious tensions and anti-Pakistan sentiments to rouse support for his policies. Choosing to focus little on domestic policy, the BJP have placed themselves as the party which will protect the nation from outside invaders.
A memorable part of the campaign was when Modi and other BJP figures changed their Twitter names to put ‘chowkidar’ in front of them: meaning watchman, promising to be vigilant against corruption those who would harm India.
Gandhi has a base of feel-good policies such as universal healthcare and a basic income for people in rural villages, which have earned him support. However, the cult of personality around Modi may prove difficult to overcome in one election for the INC kingpin.
His attempt to unify the various castes and sects is admirable in the face of staunch Hindu nationalism, and may play well amongst more internationalist voters.
How does the election work?
Voting occurs in seven phases, from April 11th to May 19th, a period of over five weeks. Due to the size of the electorate, the spaced out election protects the integrity of the vote. With over one million polling stations to ratify, the results should be available several days after the polls close, on May 23rd.
India has a Westminster-style model, with the Rajya Sabha (Lords) being the upper house, and the Lok Sabha (Commons) the lower, with the Prime Minister normally holding a seat in the latter.
What will decide the election?
In 2014, Modi and the BJP secured an improbable majority, taking 282 of the 535 seats to form the government on its own. With the help of its allies, the ruling alliance accounted for 336 seats, allowing for sweeping changes in policy.
Electoral alliances are key, with 2014 being the first election in decades to not require a rainbow coalition. Thus, it may suit larger parties to not field candidates in certain areas, if the party who is likely to win will prop up any government they form.
The government leads the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to counter the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), propped up by smaller parties across the nation.
Which areas are eligible to vote?
Voting is spread across India’s 29 states and seven additional, smaller territories, known as union territories. Some areas carry more weight than others because of the number of Lok Sabha constituencies in each state or union territory, something that’s based on how populous they are. The bigger the state, the more seats it has.
And the biggest battleground by many miles is the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. It’s India’s most populous state, with about 200 million inhabitants — if it was a country, it would be the fifth largest on the planet.
Uttar Pradesh accounts for 80 seats in the Lok Sabha, making it critical to the formation of any Indian government. The BJP won 68 seats at the last election, taking a huge step towards overall victory.
Other key regions to watch will be western state of Maharashtra, which accounts for 48 Lok Sabha seats; West Bengal in the east with 42 seats; Bihar in the north, which accounts for 40; and in the south, Tamil Nadu, which has 39 seats.
Most key pundits see the BJP taking key losses to Congress in some areas, but still gaining enough seats to rule with a smaller majority alone, or with the Alliance. It would be something of a shock were the Congress and allies to overturn the deficit and form the next government, currently holding 66 seats to the NDA’s 341.
Whilst Modi has come under fire for his record of civil unrest and controversial move towards Hindu nationalism with his ties to the paramilitary RSS, his foreign policy record and tough stance with Pakistan, coupled with solid advancements in science and industry, should see him secure another five-year term.