The largest elections in Human history
May 15, 2014 7:31 PM   Subscribe

An election spread over 42 days with 550 Mn people (66% of eligible voters), 930,000 polling booths, more than a 1000 parties, 545 seats and approximately $6 Bn spent. These elections come at time when India is going through huge changes. The economy has slowed down from its heady days of 9% growth to around 5% growth. The current coalition government headed by congress was mired in scandals and policy paralysis. The demographic dividend has resulted in a large number of youth participating in elections.

Framed as the biggest elections in human history, John Oliver had a great segment about it.

Due to a quirk of law, while the rules bar candidates from spending more than 120K in one constituency, the parties are free to spend as much as they want. this has resulted in allegations of huge amounts of money being used to influence voters. While no major party provides the details or sources of their expenses, it is estimated that one major party had spent close to $850 Mn for advertising itself, leave aside other expenses on political rallies, transportation, and even payment to voters.

The focus of these elections was around the opposition Hindu nationalist party, BJP's leader, Narendra Modi. He has been leading the state of Gujarat for past 12 years. But he is also tainted by allegations of encouraging or enabling the 2002 riots in his state where approximately 1200 muslims were killed. He has steadfastly refused to accept that he made any mistakes during the riots, which many have termed as pogroms and alleged participation of government. One of his ministers has been convicted for encouraging the rioteers.

These elections saw a high intensity extensive campaign in his attempt to connect with everyone. he was also the focus of one of the biggest advertising campaigns in Indian election history. From using backdrops worth $5 Mn to 3D holograms of his speeches to continuous advertisement on TV and print media, many allege that he has created a nexus with big corporate donors who are backing him by providing the money needed to fund such a large and expensive campaign.

Modi is fighting on the plank of development and growth, getting more jobs. Although opponents claim that its all a cover for his attempts to polarize voters along religious lines.

BJP has formed government once earlier for 5 years. In a major departure from Indian policy, it conducted nuclear tests. It was also at the edge of two wars with Pakistan.

The other big story of this politics is the expected huge loss of Indian National Congress, which has ruled for majority of 67 years that India has been free. The party has depended mainly on the Nehru-gandhi family and this time Rahul Gandhi (no relation to the famous Mohandas Gandhi) is leading the charge. A loss would put a lot of pressure on his leadership .

A 3rd interesting but small entrant to Indian politics is Aam Admi Party. In a country where elections have been fought on the basis of caste and religious equations, dependence on black money and known criminals to get votes, the party has made public any donation that it has received. It has focused on corruption as an issue and has campaigned on removing corruption. It has also avoided having anyone with criminal antecedents as candidate. It won a surprising number of seats in recent delhi elections and was even able to form a minority govt for 49 days, when the govt fell as it tried to bring in a strong anti-corruption law. The party has put up its candidates in 426 out of 543 seats, maximum of any party and more than the two established major parties BJP and congress. In a show of electoral audacity, the party put up its top leaders against the Prime ministerial candidates of both major parties, BJP and Congress. Though exit polls expected AAP to lose both contests, the party has been able to use the situation to its advantage in gaining a lot of media attention. If they achieve even moderate success in these elections, it might lead to a large change in political discourse in India.

There are a lot of regional parties in the fray as well. Most of these parties are built on regional, lingual or cast liines. Past 15 years have seen coalition govts and regional parties have been vital in the government formation. BJP, which is expected to form the govt has 28 allies already and is looking for additional allies. The process of cementing alliances is going to be very interesting and engrossing once the results are announced.

If Modi lead BJP comes into power, it might lead to significant changes in India's defense and foreign policy. Modi has promised to be tougher on Pakistan and terrorists, even advocating hot pursuits of terrorists into Pakistan's territory.

BJP is also expected to provide corporate friendly policies and chances of its governance has lead to huge increases in the stock indices as well as scrips of companies considered close to Modi.

The election results, to be announced in a few hours, are available at various places where you might follow it on the web.
posted by TheLittlePrince (26 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Very interesting and comprehensive post about this important election. I didn't know that google and bing had a dedicated website for events such as this, but I should have guessed.

Oh wait, there is something about the Beyonce's sister on the TV, got to go :-)
posted by nostrada at 8:15 PM on May 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

India has more people than all of Europe. The scale is hard to comprehend.

BJP looks set to win. Unfortunately.
posted by stbalbach at 9:09 PM on May 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wow. Great post, TheLittlePrince.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:12 PM on May 15, 2014

Both Google and Bing source their results from the official source here.
posted by Gyan at 9:20 PM on May 15, 2014

Great post, TheLittlePrince!

If you're reading Google's results page and like me can't quite figure out how NDA and UPA match up with the above, the two alliances denoted by yellow and blue respectively are the National Democratic Alliance which is lead by the BJP and the United Progressive Alliance, of which the Indian National Congress is mentioned in the post.

I really hope that there isn't an increase in saber-rattling and brinkmanship in South Asia. The eschatometer is already way too high here on Planet Earth.
posted by ob1quixote at 9:20 PM on May 15, 2014

I wish the BJP and BNP could get thrown into a pit so we could all just watch the one spectacle that will leave the world better off. Modi can talk about economic development all he wants, but all the money can't paint over sectarian violence and discrimination. TNR just posted a piece that describes Modi perfectly:
He is a depressingly familiar type. He is secretive; he is vindictive; he has creepily authoritarian tendencies (a woman in Gujarat was placed under surveillance by Modi for months in a controversy that somehow didn't seem to register with voters); he ricochets between aggression and self-pity in a manner familiar to anyone who has heard nationalists of any stripe; and he is simply incapable of sounding broad-minded. During the 2002 Gujarat riots, hundreds of people (mostly Muslims) were killed in communal violence on Modi's watch. (This is why he has been denied a United States visa for many years.) The extent of Modi's role in spurring on the horrors has been extensively debated; suffice it to say that he once said his only regret about the mass murders was that he didn't handle the media well enough.
posted by Ouverture at 12:45 AM on May 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

It will soon be over, thank goodness. It's been just the ugliest thing I've ever seen, thanks to social media - the concealed bitterness and xenophobia of so many people I know has been stripped bare, it's unsettling. I always suspected it to be there, but naively assumed that educated, relatively wealthy people would at least have the good sense to remain circumspect about it.

Thanks, Facebook! I know my "friends" a little bit better now.
posted by vanar sena at 12:55 AM on May 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

vanar - sounds like the whole "unfollowing your bigoted 'friends' during election season" phenomenon transcends cultural and national borders :))))))
posted by radicalawyer at 4:06 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

What an excellent and indepth post. Thank You.
The Gujurati massacre previously.
Pankaj Mishra in the Guardian : - The New Face of India.
posted by adamvasco at 5:26 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hey, now even India has a leader that would LOVE to blow up "insrrrrrgents and terrrrrists"

Oooh, oooh, does that mean we get to sit at the big kids' table now with the United States?
posted by mysticreferee at 5:33 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

That surveillance thing was beyond creepy, and the thing with his wife frankly doesn't endear me to him either. I'm glad I'm overseas.

...but on the other hand, I'm not sure Congress could have been any less competent if they'd tried. Their campaign was utterly lackluster and I feel like Rahul was sleepwalking the entire time.

Between Congress stumbling into the furniture all year and the AAP just sort of wandering around looking confused it's not really a surprise that the BJP won big.
posted by aramaic at 6:25 AM on May 16, 2014

NDA leads in 336 of 543 seats, looks at a historic win.

First single-party government since Congress in 1984, right after Indira Gandhi's assassination. This is big.

NYT: Sweeping Win for Nationalists Ousts India’s Ruling Party.

Compared with their elders, these young voters were unmoved by the decade-old history of the Gujarat riots, which had prompted many Western governments, including the United States, to impose visa bans on Mr. Modi. They also proved far less emotionally bound to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, which has served as the backbone of the Congress party since India won its independence, surviving the wrenching assassinations of two of its members. ... "Once you have gotten used to 7 percent growth, to go down to 4.5 is a real recession.”
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:13 AM on May 16, 2014

It would be interesting to see the policy priorities of the new government. Their campaign has been very expensive and the sources are not known. Everyone assumes that a bunch of big capitalists have been financing them.

Between the demands of their hindu nationalistic parent organization and the corporate financiers, it will be interesting to see how the new government begins its work.

But it is a big change for India. A single party majority after a long time. A new generation of politicians leading a party (this is the first time someone born after independence is becoming the prime minister).
posted by TheLittlePrince at 9:36 AM on May 16, 2014

This is hilarious ( pay extra attention to the candidate names :) ) .

Also, while Modi has blood on his hands, so does the other major party -Congress . The people didn't really have much of a choice when it came down to it.
posted by asra at 9:37 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Corrupt, weak, nepotistic administration swept aside by a strict authoritarian who has proven time and time again to be a fascist.

We've never seen this before! Where could it go wrong?
posted by lalochezia at 11:34 AM on May 16, 2014

Very informative post. Thanks, TheLittlePrince.
posted by homunculus at 11:38 AM on May 16, 2014

People like to talk about Nazis and fascism when they're looking to demonize their opponents, but Modi is really the closest thing to a fascist leader in the modern world. This outcome is terrifying, frankly.
posted by clockzero at 11:58 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

“Springtime for Modi”, Thomas Crowley, Jacobin, 06 May 2014
posted by ob1quixote at 1:42 PM on May 16, 2014

radicalawyer: "vanar - sounds like the whole "unfollowing your bigoted 'friends' during election season" phenomenon transcends cultural and national borders :))))))"

Oh, it's well past that, deep into unfriending territory now in some cases. The viciousness is quite upsetting.

I was going to add my concerns about the first- and second-time voters of India being too young to remember what authoritarian demagoguery looks like at the national level, but Mihir Sharma has written a pretty good summary.
posted by vanar sena at 7:11 AM on May 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Thank you, Vanar, for the link to the article. As a Anglo-European American, it has been difficult to understand what is truly at stake and the implications of this election in the world's largest of Democracies.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 1:59 PM on May 17, 2014

The WaPo link appears to be broken, I'm afraid.
posted by all the versus at 12:06 AM on May 18, 2014

WaPo: India’s election isn’t as historic as people think (corrected).

The article is disingenuous since it bases its argument on the national popular vote share. But that is not what counts in winning individual seats, and which is all that matters in forming governments. What it sorta ignores is the potential for 5 years of single party rule to shape the outcome of future elections, specifically the viability of the Congress party, which has been the default kernel of most Indian central governments since its independence. If the next five years go relatively well, then Congress is likely permanently crippled, and it may not regain its former stature. If that happens, its popular vote share may drop even further, thus negating the article's thesis. So, this election, in retrospect, would be deemed historic, in being the gateway to a new political landscape.
posted by Gyan at 12:27 AM on May 18, 2014

India's minister for rural development [Gopinath Munde] has been killed in a road accident, depriving Narendra Modi of a key ally just eight days after coming to office as prime minister with a mandate to revitalise a stalled economy.

Gopinath Munde, 64, was on his way to the airport for a victory rally in his home state of Maharashtra on India's west coast when his car collided with another vehicle. He died later in hospital.

India's roads are among the most dangerous in the world and Delhi one of the cities that account for the greatest number of fatalities.

posted by filthy light thief at 7:38 AM on June 3, 2014

New York Review of Books: India after English?
In the days since the decisive victory of Narendra Modi and his conservative Bharatiya Janata Party in India’s national election, many Indian commentators have perceived a turning point in Indian politics. Modi’s critics sense, in his sweeping mandate, an ominous revival of Hindu nationalism; his supporters maintain that he won because of his robust economic record in Gujarat, where he was Chief Minister from 2001 to 2014. Few on either side, though, dispute that Modi’s political rise signals, in part, a rejection by voters of India’s traditional political elite.

Modi is the consummate self-made man; behind him lie a childhood spent helping his father sell tea at a railway station, university degrees earned through part-time courses, and a career spent climbing laboriously up the ladder of state politics in Gujarat. In speech, he rarely departs from Hindi and Gujarati; his English is serviceable but never elegant. During the campaign, a swaggering rival, Mani Shankar Aiyar—an entrenched member of the Congress Party who speaks a plummy, refined English—dismissed Modi as a chaiwallah. But it was Aiyar who lost his parliamentary seat, while Modi went on to become Prime Minister.

Aiyar’s disdain for Modi was part of an attitude that India’s privileged could once comfortably hold: that only the poorly educated, or the provincial-minded, or those from the lower classes preferred to speak an Indian language instead of English. But Modi’s victory has coincided with a surge of confidence in India’s regional languages—one that has played out not only in politics but also in the dramatic shift occurring in India’s newspaper business.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:39 AM on June 11, 2014

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