Elections in the world's largest democracy

Published: 7 May 2014

The parliamentary elections in India are taking place these days, and the country seems to be heading towards a power shift in the country after ten years. NUPI’s India expert Francesca Refsum Jensenius provides an introduction to the main candidates and election issues.

Right now the parliamentary elections in India are taking place, and the country seems to be heading towards a power shift in the country after ten years. NUPI’s India expert Francesca Refsum Jensenius provides an introduction to the main candidates and election issues.

To conduct an election in the world's largest democracy is no small affair. More than 800 million people have the right to vote in the parliamentary elections, and the elections are conducted in nine rounds over the course of five weeks. On May 16, the votes will be counted and the results are expected to be ready during the same day.

Towards a power shift
Senior Research Fellow at NUPI Francesca Refsum Jensenius does research on topics related to elections and political representation in India. She has written a PhD on political quotas for Dalits (low-caste groups) in the state assemblies in India. She is now following the election closely.

“Everyone believes India is headed towards a power shift. It appears that the Congress party, which has now been in power for ten years, is going to lose. The only clear prime minister candidate, who seems likely to win, is Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP, ‘The Indian people's party’), a market-liberalist and Hindu nationalist”, says Jensenius.
She explains that many Indians fear the Hindu nationalist Modi coming into power because he has a reputation as being authoritarian and hostile towards India's minorities. Modi has been accused of being involved when nearly 2,000 Muslims were killed in connection with retaliation related to religious riots in the Gujarat state in 2002. He has never been convicted, but he is still associated with the incident and has never apologized for the incident public.

The economy on the agenda
The elections in India has also largely focused on the economy, and this is one of the issues Modi has been campaigning for.

“The state Modi comes from has got a reputation for managing to create a strong economic growth, but there are also differing opinions on this issue. The state has not had good results in terms of poverty reduction. But Modi is known to be a strong leader, and he has also distinguished himself clearly on the fight against corruption”, Jensenius says.
Also a third party, "Common Man Party," which was the big winner in state elections in Delhi recently , has campaigned on the fight against corruption.

“‘Common Man Party’ is not likely to win many seats in the parliament, but has managed to create a lot of political fuzz”, the NUPI researcher points out.
Must form coalition
Though Modi’s party is most likely to get the most votes, polls indicate that no parties will get enough votes to form a government on their own. This means that they will have to form a coalition government with some of the regional parties in India.

“It will be very interesting to follow the negotiations on forming a coalition government after elections in late May. Very much depends on how strong Modi’s party becomes. If he wins the election by a wide margin, many fear that there will be a more fertile ground for discrimination against minority groups in India. But if the election victory is less convincing, he will have to enter into many compromises with the regional parties, and things will probably continue more or less as before”, Jensenius concludes.
 Further Reading (In Norwegian only)

 Along with three researchers from the University of Oslo has Jensenius written a series of articles on the Indian elections for the Norwegian news magazine Ny Tid, which you can read here (Norwegian only):

The same researchers have also written an article about the election in the Norwegian Daily newspaper Aftenposten: "Hvem kan danne regjering i India?" (07/05/2014).

Francesca Refsum Jensenius has also written an analysis of the election for The Norwegian Atlantic Committe: "Hvor går verdens største demokrati nå?" (23.05.2013)

The photograph shows Francesca Refsum Jensenius doing fieldwork in India.