Election Preview: India 2009
India, the world’s second largest country and the largest democracy in the world, is voting for one month, until May 16. 714 million voters are registered to vote, although turnout is generally 50-60%. India’s lower house, the Lok Sabha, which is up for election, has 543 seats each representing one FPTP constituency. I won’t pretend to know everything about Indian politics (if such a feat is possible by a non-superhuman), since Indian politics is very divided and very confusing, and getting more divided and confusing by the minutes. Indian politics in the past were generally less divided, but recent elections have seen the rise of formidable regional party machines in various Indian states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Tamil Nadu.
In May 2004, the the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee was defeated by the so-called United Progressive Alliance (UPA) dominated by the Indian National Congress (INC), which is led by Sonia Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi declined to become Prime Minister, with the post going to former Finance Minister Manmohan Singh, a Sikh.
39 parties won seats in 2004, although the vast majority of these parties have aligned into one of two alliances: the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) dominated by the Hindu nationalist (and economically right-wing) BJP and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) dominated by the Indian National Congress, a generally centrist to centre-left party dominated by the Gandhi family. The NDA (and the UPA, to a lesser extent it seems) has been deserted by a lot of its regional allies who have formed a Third Front, including the Communists.
Indian politics are relatively anti-incumbent, like Bangladesh. But they’re also unpredictable, despite the pollsters best efforts (polling 15k people or even more). In 2004, for example, the BJP-NDA was widely expected to win a crushing victory. I’ll only mention seat counts here, since popular vote figures are useless in India. It’s possible to poll 40% and win no seats, like it’s possible to poll 10% and win, say, 1o-20 seats. India shows how awful FPTP is.
It would be impossible to explain current Indian politics on a national level, so I’ve decided to break this down into short snippets about each state and Union Territory. For starters, I’ll stick to describing the current seat breakdown without getting too much into the 2009 outlook.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands (1 MP): These remote islands in the Bay of Bengal have only one MP in the Lok Sabha. Since 2004, the seat is held by the INC, which gained the seat from the BJP (1999-2004). The constituency voted on April 16.
Andhra Pradesh (42 MPs): India’s 5th most populated state is largely Hindu, but speaks a Dravidian language (Telugu). While the INC won a landslide in the state in 2004, with 29 seats, Andhra Pradesh has two important Telugu regionalist parties, both of which are now in the Third Front. The Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) was affiliated with the UPA in 2004, and won 5 seats (6.83%). The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) was affiliated with the NDA in 2004, and won 5 seats but over 30% of the vote. Both parties now support a Telangana state.
Arunachal Pradesh (2 MPs): The easternmost state of India high in the Himalayas has 2 MPs, both of which are members of the BJP, gained from the INC in 2004.
Assam (14 MPs): Assam is located just below Arunachal Pradesh and has 14 MPs. The INC has 9 MPs, while the BJP has 2. In addition to one Indie, the regionalist Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) has 2 seats.
Bihar (4o MPs): Bihar, in northeastern India, is one of the states dominated by regional parties. The largest of these parties is the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), a member of the UPA in 2004 (and now totally independent, in a so-called Fourth Front) whose support comes from Yadavs and Muslims. The RJD is locally allied with the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJNSP). The RJD lost the 2005 state elections to a coalition led by the Janata Dal (United), or JD(U), which is affiliated with the BJP’s NDA. Ironically, both the RJD and JD(U) originally evolved from the same party. The INC has three seats, while the BJP holds 5 seats.
Chandigarh (1 MP): Chandigarh, the richest city in India, is a Union Territory and a city serving as capital of Punjab and Haryana states. The INC holds the seat representing the city since 1999.
Chhattisgarh (11 MPs): The central Indian state of Chhattisgarh is a BJP stronghold, which won 10 seats in 2004. The INC holds one seat.
Dadra and Nagar Haveli (1 MP): Dadra and Nagar Haveli, formerly part of Portuguese India, is another UT on the west Indian coast. The seat is held by the Bharatiya Navshakti Party (BNP), which is independent of all coalitions, it seems.
Daman and Diu (1 MP): Daman and Diu, also formerly Portuguese and also a UT has one seat, held by the INC.
NCT of Delhi (7 MPs): The Indian capital, New Delhi, has 7 MPs, of which 6 are members of the INC and one is a member of the BJP. In 1999, all 7 MPs were BJP.
Goa (2 MPs): The former Portuguese colony of Goa has 2 MPs, one each for the INC and BJP.
Gujarat (26 MPs): The state of Gujarat, which, contrarily to what the media likes to think, does not have a huge Muslim population (slightly below national average, in fact) is a generally solid state for the BJP, which holds 14 seats against 12 for the INC. The BJP won a relatively important victory in the 2007 state elections.
Haryana (10 MPs): Haryana, a state in northeastern India, is the 3rd richest in India and also the hub of a lot of the Indian industry (IT, and outsourcing). The INC holds 9 seats, the BJP holds one. The BJP has an ally in the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), which recently joined the NDA.
Himachal Pradesh (4 MPs): Also located in the larger Punjab region but to the north of Haryana, the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh has 4 MPs, three from the INC and one from the BJP. The BJP won the 2007 state elections in a landslide, defeating the INC.
Jammu and Kashmir (6 MPs): India’s northernmost and largest Muslim state has 6 MPs. The INC has two seats, while the JK National Conference has two. The JKNC was allied with the NDA in 2004, but joined the UPA since it now forms government in Kashmir with the INC. The smaller regionalist JK People’s Democratic Party has one seat, while an Independent holds the last seat.
Jharkhand (14 MPs): The east Indian state of Jharkhand has 14 MPs, of which six are Congress. While it topped the poll in terms of votes, the BJP has only one MP. The RJD has 2 MPs, and there is one Communist. The regional (ex)UPA-member Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) has four seats.
Karnataka (28 MPs): The south Indian state of Karnatka, which includes the city of Bangalore, has 28 MPs. Despite it being a Dravidian state, Karnataka has become a strong state for the BJP, which holds 18 seats. The INC holds 8. The Janata Dal (Secular), a member of the Third Front, has two seats.
Kerala (20 MPs): The southwestern state of Kerala (and the largest Muslim state, with 24.7%, outside of J&K) is one of the best off states in India, with low poverty, high literacy and HDI. Ironically, the state is a stronghold of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPI(M) for short, which was founded in the ’60’s in a pro-Chinese/Maoist lines as opposed to a more pro-Russian (but also pro-cooperation with the INC) Communist Party of India (CPI). Both parties are quasi-identical nowadays. The CPI(M) holds 12 seats, while the CPI holds 3. The Janata Dal (Secular) holds one seat. In terms of local parties, the NDA-ally Federal Democratic Party holds one seat; a Muslim party holds one seat; and the Left-ally Kerala Congress, a Christian party, has one seat. There is one Independent.
Lakshadweep (1 MP): The Lakshadweep Islands off the west coast of India are a Union Territory with one MP. The seat is held by the Janata Dal (United), a BJP ally.
Madhya Pradesh (29 MPs): The central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is a BJP stronghold. In fact, the BJP holds 25 seats to the INC’s 4.
Maharashtra (48 MPs): India’s second most populous state and home to Mumbai, the central Indian state of Maharashtra is a swing state in Indian politics. The INC and BJP both hold 13 of the state’s 48 seats. The radical Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena (NDA) holds 12 seats, while the Nationalist Congress Party (UPA), a anti-Sonia Gandhi INC splitoff holds 9. A small Republican Party allied with the UPA has one seat.
Manipur (2 MPs): A small state in northeastern India with a sizeable Christian minority, Manipur has two MPs: one Congress, one Indie.
Megahalaya (2 MPs): Yet another small state in NE India, Megahalaya has a Christian majority (70%). It has Congress MP and one former NCP MP that joined the West Bengal-based All India Trinamool Congress (AITC).
Mizoram (1 MP): See Megahalaya. NE India, Christian. The current MP for the state represents the regionalist Mizo National Front (MNF, part of NDA). The MNF lost the 2008 state election to the INC in a landslide on the back of a strong anti-incumbency wave (anti-incumbency is high in India).
Nagaland (1 MP): See above. NE India, Christian. The current MP represents the regionalist Nagaland People’s Front (NPF, part of NDA).
Orissa (21 MPs): Orissa, on the east coast of India, is another state with a strong regionalist party. The Biju Janata Dal (BJD), allied to the BJP until this year, has joined the Third Front. In 2004, the BJD won 11 seats, against 7 for the BJP, 2 for the INC, and one of the JMM which I mentioned above (see Jharkhand).
Puducherry (1 MP): The former French territory of Puducherry/Pondichery has one MP, who represents the Tamil Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK, Third Front). I’ll talk about Tamil politics later when I get to Tamil Nadu.
Punjab (13 MPs): Punjab state in northeastern India has a Sikh majority. The Sikh Shiromani Akali Dal, a member of the NDA and ally of the BJP, holds 8 seats. The BJP has 3 seats, the INC has two.
Rajasthan (25 MPs): The state of Rajasthan, the largest state in terms of land area (but a lot of desert), is generally a BJP ‘safe’ state. The BJP won 21 seats in 2004, against 4 for the INC.
Sikkim (1 MP): Sikkim, a tiny state up there in the Himalayas is the least populated state in India. It has one MP, representing the Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF, I think BJP ally, not sure though).
Tamil Nadu (39 MPs): Tamil politics are incomprehensible to the outside world, including me. So I’ll try my best to explain what I do understand. Parties, most of them regional Dravidian parties, don’t really seem to have ideologies, or if they do, it’s very minimal in actual political matters. Of the 39 MPs, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK-UPA) has 16 seats. The Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK-Third Front), formerly UPA, holds 4 seats. The Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK, Third Front), formerly UPA, holds 5 seats. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK, Third Front), formerly NDA, holds no seats. The AIADMK, however, is the second largest party in the State Assembly. Of the national parties, the INC has 10 seats, and the two Communist parties (CPI and CPIM) both hold two seats each. For reference, here are the results of the 2006 state election.
Tripura (2 MPs): Tripura is a small northeastern state in India, with a mostly Bengali (Hindu) population. The CPI(M) holds both seats.
Uttar Pradesh (80 MPs): With 80 seats in the Lok Sabha, the state of Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state (190 million people. Would be 5th most populated country in the world if independent!). Dominated in the past by the INC, Janata Dal, and later BJP, it is increasingly dominated by local parties. In 2004, the Samajwadi Party (SP), which is independent of coalitions nationally, won 35 seats. The SP’s support is mostly Muslim (18%) or in the lower castes (Dalits). The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is also a lower-caste party led by Mayawati, a dalit herself, but an opportunist more than anything else. The BSP, like so many Indian regional parties, has no ideology except for being Mayawati’s personal machine. The Economist, which understandably has no great love for the BSP or the Indian left (and is certainly biased), says that she is “masquerading as a promoter of dalit rights”. The BSP won only 19 seats in 2004, but the BSP won UP’s first majority government since 1991 in 2007, with Mayawati as Premier. Recently, the BSP has expanded to become a party for all Indian dalits, and this endeavour has been met with some success, based on recent state elections. The BSP, independent in 2004, is now a member of the Third Front and Mayawati is the unofficial leader of the coalition, with some even seeing her as India’s PM. In terms of national parties, the BJP has 10 seats, the INC has 9, and the JD (U) has one. The Jat-based Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) has three seats in alliance with the SP, The Muslim National Loktantrik Party (NLP) has one seat, the small Samajwadi Janata Party has one seat, and there is one Indie.
Uttarakhand (5 MPs): Uttarakhand, a northern state, has 5 MPs. The BJP holds 3 seats, while the INC and SP hold one each.
West Bengal (42 MPs): West Bengal in eastern India has been an historical base of Indian communism. The state was a base for Naxalite, Marxist, and trade unionist movements; and has been ruled by the CPIM for three decades. The CPI(M) holds 26 seats, the INC holds six, and the CPI holds three. The All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) holds one seat, and is allied with the UPA. The All India Foward Bloc, a Communist ally, holds three seats. The Revolutionary Socialist Party, also a CPIM ally, holds one seat.
Voting takes place in five phases. If you’re interested, Wikipedia has a relatively decent page for the polling schedule.
Enough India for today. More stuff later this month.