Lok Sabha, otherwise known as the Indian parliament is headed for elections in April 2014 and this democratic process which is conducted by the Indian Election Commission is all set to break new world records. With 814 million registered voters, and more than 900,000 voting stations, India is the world’s largest democracy. The execution of this electoral process consisting of more voters than that of the continent of Europe and America combined, is without a doubt the largest and most comprehensive the world has ever seen. Each Indian election gets bigger and this one is scheduled to occur over nine phases from April 7 to May 12,2014. Voters across India will cast their votes for a total of 36 days.
‘Lok Sabha,’ which translates into ‘House of the People,’ is the lower house of the Indian Parliament. The upper house is known as ‘Rajya Sabha,’ and together these two houses of representatives, form the Indian parliament. In Sanskrit, ‘Lok,’ means people and ‘Sabha’ means assembly. Since India’s independence from the imperial rule of the British in 1947, there have been 15 such sessions of parliament that have been elected into power. The 16th Lok Sabha will consist of 552 elected members from each Indian state as well as 20 union territories. Since 2009, over 100 million new voters have been added to the voters list. The last parliament was voted into power in 2009, and 2014 will see India’s longest election.
Unless dissolved, each parliament session lasts five years. In addition to the 100 million or so new voters, the vast majority of India’s electorate is young. Outside this group of voters, young people are also the dominant age group of India’s population with 65% under the age of 25. Until 1990, with a few exceptions, India’s parliament has been controlled by the ruling Congress party, also known as the Indian National Congress(INC). This party claims to be the largest democratically controlled political party in the world and one of the oldest. In addition, the INC was involved with the Indian independence movement and has been associated with famous names who are the founding fathers of the modern Republic of India, like Mahatma Gandhi, and Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister.
The Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) is the second largest political party in India after the Indian National Congress. The 16th Lok Sabha elections will determine which leader of these two parties will become prime minister and the race to gain power will break records regarding campaign financing and media coverage. The top contenders for prime minister are Rahul Gandhi of INC which controls the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition and Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat from the BJP. For the greater part of the last two decades, the Indian parliament has been governed by a coalition controlled either by the Congress party of BJP.
Many media analysts and election forecasts seem to have Narendra Modi and a BJP led coalition to be the forerunner for the upcoming election. Modi is running on a strong record of economic prosperity in his home state of Gujurat. Even though Rahul Gandhi has been an elected member of parliament and a key party organizer for over a decade while his party’s coalition was in power, he has no executive experience. The reputation of his government has been marred by many corruption scandals. Another new player in the Indian political sphere is the Aam Admi Party(AAP) which has galvanized voters who have been disillusioned by the two leading political parties. The AAP runs on a strong anti corruption agenda. Elections to the 16th Lok Sabha will also break another record by giving voters the chance to vote ‘none of the above,’ as an option on the ballot.
By Unni K. Nair