There really is nothing in the world of voting quite like a general election in India. A new Lok Sabha is required to be inaugurated by 2 June, and as of today we now know the dates of the elections.
The Election Commission announced that the polls will be held in five stages between 16 April and 13 May.
Due to the vast administrative complexity and security requirements of Indian elections, they are spread over multiple stages, even though voting is held on just one day in any given district, given India’s first-past-the-post system.
Other items of note: Photo electoral rolls will be used for the first time in 522 out of the 543 constituencies and 499 districts have had boundary adjustments since the last election in 2004.
These are significant because from the 2004 elections until last summer, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance had ruled with the support of the Left bloc, which includes the parties that govern in West Bengal (where the Congress will now seek to displace them from their Lok Sabha seats). The Samajwadi Party, which is one of the major parties (not currently governing) in India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, lent the UPA a helping hand by supporting it in a confidence vote last year when the Left withdrew support.
By forging such alliances in India’s FPTP system, parties seek to coordinate their voters behind a common candidate in each district covered by the alliance.
The general secretary of the All India Congress Committee, Janardan Dwivedi, has said that Congress will not have a “national alliance” in the upcoming general elections. Rather it will have only state-level “seat adjustments.” However, he denies that the United Progressive Alliance–the pre-electoral coalition headed by the Congress party that has governed India since 2004–is breaking up:
Of course, there is UPA. But UPA does not fight elections. It is the political parties in UPA which contest elections.
Seems we are down to semantic hair-splitting here. When one national party makes “seat adjustments” with numerous state and regional parties, by which the two parties agree not to contest single-seat district races against one another, that would appear to be a “national alliance.” And even one that fights elections.
The problem with calling it such is, for Congress, that several of its allies have ambitions to extend their current reach beyond the states where they currently have seats. Congress will not look kindly upon its alliance essentially becoming a bloc containing other “national” parties, as then it would be strengthening potential rivals rather than harnessing the local strength of its junior partners.
The Congress leader said that seat sharing will differ from state to state. “The state leadership (of Congress) will keep in view the local situation and the state level party (ally) and take a decision with the support of the AICC,” he added.
Dwivedi said, “Congress will seek votes on its own, except where it is in alliance”. In those states, where the party has entered into an alliance, it would seek the votes for its alliance partners also, the general secretary said.
Shock of shocks, Congress members want the party to maximize its own seats. However, it also needs to maximize the seats of the alliance, because it is the alliance that will form the government–if, that is, its election fight is successful.
So, yes, of course, the UPA is a national electoral alliance. Just don’t call it that.
LK Advani is the BJP candidate for Prime Minister of India for elections due within a few months. He is, therefore, also the candidate of the National Democratic Alliance, the pre-electoral bloc led by the BJP. But Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, is a “star campaigner” among many BJP constituencies and he has “managed a show of support from captains of industry,” the Hindustan Times notes. However:
The allies who form the NDA will run away because of Modi’s record in handling Gujarat’s worst communal riots.
Results are now in in the last of India’s states to have had assembly elections this year: Jammu & Kashmir.
No party is close to a majority, with the Jammu & Kashmir National Conference (NC) leading with 28 out of 86 seats (32.6%). Jammu & Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party is second with 20. The next two largest parties are the two main national parties: the Indian National Congress (INC) has 17, and the Bharatiya Janata Party has 11.
The NC and INC together would have a majority, and it appears this will be the new J&K government.
The state had not had elections since 2002, when the INC won 20 of 91 seats (on 24.2% of the vote) and the NC (also know as the JKN) won 28 (on 28.2%) and the BJP 1, according to a report available at the Election Commission of India website. Thus, at least in terms of seats,1 there was not much change over the long six-year inter-electoral period. The BJP gained, but from an extremely low base, while the National Conference and the Congress Party barely changed their seat shares.
Jammu and Kashmir thus continues on the other recent state elections the trend of good results for the INC, which leads the federal ruling coalition, as federal elections approach.
1. Aggregate votes totals for the most recent election will not be available for a while.
A recent “tug-of-war,” as the Hindustan Times puts it, over judicial appointments in India reveals the superiority of nomination/appointment processes that put the executive second, rather than as initiator, in the process.
For India’s Supreme Court–one of the most active constitutional review bodies among the world’s high courts1:
Appointments and promotions of judges are done by the President on the basis of recommendations made by a panel of Supreme Court judges which are forwarded by the government.
“President” here refers to the “mostly ceremonial” head of state2 and “government” refers, of course, to the federal executive cabinet, headed by the prime minister. Note that the first mover in nominations is a judicial “panel” (the details of which are not clear to me) and the executive only responds. This sort of process has long appealed to me as a preferable reform model for the US Supreme Court. And while I am not aware of a process of this sort ever having been seriously proposed for the US Supreme Court, it is not as “foreign” to American judicial practice as it may seem. In fact, several US states have moved to broadly similar reform models in recent decades.3
Recounting the “tug-of-war,” the HT says:
The trouble started when on October 18 the Supreme Court panel, responsible for judges’ appointments and promotions, recommended the three [state] chief justices for promotion to the Supreme Court.
Hindustan Times reported on October 27 that the panel had overlooked the three senior-most high court judges in the country – Justices A.P. Shah, A.K. Patnaik and V.K. Gupta – chief justices of Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand high courts, respectively.
Last month, for the first time in 15 years since the present system for appointments and promotions was adopted, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) refused to endorse the recommendations and sent back the file to the apex court for reconsideration.
The PMO pointed out that the three judges were junior to several other judges eligible for promotion. It also drew the panel’s attention to the fact that state and gender representation had been overlooked.
Six states — Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Sikkim — are not represented in the Supreme Court. Since June 2006, the court has also been without a lady judge.
However, in a snub, the SC panel sent the same names back.
Rules say the government has the option to return the recommendations once to the Supreme Court, but had to accept them the second time. [emphasis added]
And thus did an attempt by the federal executive to shape the highest court fail.
1. Arend Lijphart, Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), specifically Table 12.2 on p. 226.
2. Chosen by an electoral college made up of federal and state legislators.
3. Florida is one such case. I distinctly recall the (presumably willful) mis-characterization of the Florida Supreme Court after its ruling demanding a recount in Bush v. Gore: It was widely pointed out that the court’s majority was appointed by Democratic Governors. Technically correct, but not in the sense most American readers or listeners would understand it, for the Florida court is not appointed in an executive-initiative process like the federal one. Rather, like the Indian process, a judicial panel forwards nominees to the Governor, who may reject a proposed justice, but not initiate his preferred alternative.
It so happens that right now in Florida, there is an apparent attempt by the Governor to influence the judicial nominating process that has echoes of the Indian case.
All in all, a pretty good record for the Indian National Congress, the party of incumbent federal Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The only states the INC did not win were those that voted before the Mumbai attacks. And, as I note below, the INC gained on the BJP even in the two pre-attack states that the BJP held, suggesting there were national pro-INC factors at work independent of both the attacks and any particular state issues. Although these states are not necessarily bellwethers, overall, these results have to be good news for the INC as federal elections approach within the next few months.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) attempt to build a national campaign around the issues of terrorism, inflation, and a deepening agriculture crisis as a prelude to the Lok Sabha elections worked, at best, only partially. Local issues of governance won the day.
The BJP was pushing the “soft on terrorism” line even before the attacks in Mumbai.
The election was fought very much on BJP turf, as indicated by the party being the incumbent in three of the states, and how many of the federal parliamentary seats in these states are currently held by that party:
Delhi, Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh elect 72 of 542 members of the Lok Sabha, while Mizoram elects one. BJP has 57 and Congress 15 MPs in the current Lok Sabha from these states.
Federal elections must be completed no later than May.
So, when will the next general elections take place? There is nothing that suggests that the Congress would advance the polls. Congress hopes inflation will dip sharply from March 2009 onwards and by April-May the party will be in comfortable position. The party also expects to deliver on the issue of security by then, with a new home minister already in place.
Given the use of FPTP, it is always a good idea to look closely at more than just who won (i.e. who may have won a manufactured majority of seats). For instance, in the Rajastan election of 2003, the BJP majority (110 of 200 seats) resulted from 39.2% of the vote (against 35.6% for the INC). In Madhya Pradesh in 2003 the BJP’s 173 (of 230) seats came on 42.5% of the votes (INC, 31.6%). Chhattisgarh in 2003 had a really close election, in votes: the BJP won 50 of 90 seats despite a votes win of 39.3% to 36.7%. Then there’s Mizoram in 2003: the Mizoram National Front won its 21 (of 40) seats on 31.7% of the votes, against 30.1% for the INC.3 Only in Delhi did the winner in 2003 come close to an “earned” majority, with the INC winning 47 (of 68) seats on 48.1% of the vote.4
The 2008 results are available at the Election Commission of India website, but I do not see state-level aggregation of vote totals. Some of the INC wins over the BJP were substantial, however (in seats): 96 – 78 in Rajasthan, 42 – 23 in Delhi, and 32 – 0 in Mizoram (where the BJP barely contests; the incumbent National Front managed only 3 seats). In Chhattisgarh, the BJP won 37 seats to 31 for the INC, which is quite a lot closer than the 50-37 last time (in an assembly of 90 seats, now cut to 70). In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP won 126 seats (a loss of 47), but the INC remains far behind (63, a gain of 25 in an assembly cut in size from 230 to 201).
Note that the Rajasthan result this time around is not a majority, with the INC having 96 of 200 seats (+40 on 2003). The BJP won 78 seats (-32). The INC has a potential ally to support a minority government in the Bahujan Samaj Party (6 seats, a gain of 4). As Adam notes below, it is even more likely to make deals with independent members (many of whom sought the INC nomination, were denied, but won anyway.)
1. Many elections in India take place in stages, with some districts voting on different days from others; always FPTP.
2. Party abbreviations: INC = Indian National Congress, the main component of the governing United Progressive Alliance at the federal level; BJP = Bharatiya Janata Party, the main component of the federal opposition bloc, the National Democratic Alliance; MNF = Mizoram National Front.
3. And 16.2% for the Mizoram People’s Congress and 14.7% for the Zoram Nationalist Party.
4. The BJP had 20 seats on 35.2%. Here my source is a PDF from the Election Commission of India, as Adam Carr does not have a summary on his site.
Various news stories in the US have used phrases like “India’s 9/11″ in attempt to contextualize the Mumbai terror for American readers.
Aside from the fact that India unfortunately has endured many previous militant attacks–some of them originating from the same likely suspects, even if not on the coordinated, militarily precise, and mass-terrorizing scale as these latest–there is one overlooked sense in which this horrible incident has already been shown not to be India’s 9/11. (more…)
With all the other news from India these last few days, I almost missed the news that VP Singh died on Thursday.
Singh was India’s first Prime Minister not from the Congress Party, other than the period immediately following the broad front that defeated Congress during the emergency rule of 1977. His PM-ship was a short one, lasting less than a year in 1989-1990, as head of a so-called National Front. This was the beginning of a period of high government turnover, prior to the formation of the two broad alliances (National Democratic Alliance and United Progressive Alliance) that have taken turns governing since the late 1990s.
As the Thanksgiving holiday is upon us here in the USA, the news from Mumbai, India, is of a “fierce gunbattle with hiding terrorists, nearly 22 hours after terror struck prime locations in the city” (Hindustan Times).
Among the blessings for which we Americans must be most thankful is our functioning democracy in the midst of great religious and cultural diversity.* In these respects, perhaps no other country on earth is as much like ours as is India. And some do not like it that way. The terrorists who attacked in the name of an evilly twisted definition of one religion have done so with vitriol directed at Hindus, and among the sites attacked was a Jewish cultural center** that serves the city’s dwindling but very long established community.***
On a day dominated with this sort of terrible news, we are all Mubmaikars. And kinship with such a diverse and tolerant place, and its people’s struggle against intolerance and evil, is something to be thankful for.
* And, this month in particular, we can be even more thankful than usual: After eight years of official contempt for democracy and freedom, the possibilities of a brighter future are again real, current economic conditions notwithstanding.
** As the linked item, from the J-Post, notes:
Israelis feel at one with the people of India, especially at times like these. Both countries are modern incarnations of ancient civilizations. We share common political values, overlapping security concerns and a growing commerce.
India was established in 1947; Israel in 1948. Both peoples rejected British rule, both faced Muslim opposition to their independence. The subcontinent was divided into the secular state of India and the Muslim state of Pakistan. In the Mideast, the Palestinian Arabs rejected the idea of two states for two peoples. Substantially, they still do. [...]
India is a genuine multicultural democracy. Among its 1.1 billion people are 150 million Muslims. Its former president, and father of New Delhi’s nuclear program, is a Muslim.
*** Although the pre-19th century history is not well known, the west coast of India was to one of the first diaspora communities of Jews outside the Middle East. That coast, including the Mumbai region, would be among the first land one would reach if setting sail from somewhere along the Persian Gulf as exiles from the Babylon/Persia region.
On Saturday the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) granted its waiver to the accord negotiated between India and the USA.
The accord and the waiver themselves are much too far outside my areas of expertise for me to have any substantive comment. What interests me here is the implications for Indian domestic politics. The Congress-led minority cabinet recently lost its formal outside support partner, the Left alliance, over precisely the government’s decision to move forward with the “operationalization” of the controversial accord.
Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh said: “It is a great victory for India and of Indian diplomacy, and the credit for it goes to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee. It will go a long way to bridge the gap between demand and supply of power in the country. The 45-member NSG has accepted India’s credibility of being a serious non-proliferation nuclear power.”
Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari:
“It’s a historic moment for the country. The win at NSG is beyond the Congress, beyond the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) and is something fundamental to India’s growth. Despite being a non-NPT signatory, India has been able to persuade the world to give a nuclear waiver. It’s a red letter day for India.”
Meanwhile, the leader of one of the smaller parties in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) with which Congress has dealt since the departure of the Left, the Samajwadi Party, is “elated” at the news:
“…This is a befitting reply to the trio of Comrade Karat (Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary), Mayawati (Bahujan Samaj Party chief) and Advanji (Bharatiya Janata Party senior leader). We have come out with flying colours.”
The Left is, of course, somewhat less elated, with one of its leaders calling the waiver “an injustice done to the generation next to come” and accusing the government of “submitting our authority before the United States.”
Leaders of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused the government of compromising national interests. BJP vice-president and former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha:
“The Congress is saying that this will end India’s nuclear isolation. [...] the whole world recognises India as a nuclear state and it is because of our scientists, so there is nothing called isolation. India has walked into a non-proliferation trap. It has lost its right to conduct nuclear tests forever. NSG guidelines are tougher than the Hyde Act [the law on the US end of the accord].”
As if it were not obvious, an election is expected in the coming months in India.
As expected–albeit a couple of weeks earlier than expected–the minority government of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tested its confidence before the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) and won.
â€œIt (trust motion) was fully avoidable,” Manmohan Singh said as he moved the one-line motion seeking the trust of parliament for his government — reduced to minority after the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left parties withdrew their legislative support in protest against the governmentâ€™s move to carry the India-US civil nuclear deal forward.
“I have repeatedly assured all, including the Left parties, that I myself would come to the guidance of parliament before operationalising the nuclear deal, if we were allowed to go to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) to finalise the India-specific safeguards agreement),â€ said Manmohan Singh.
He said he regretted that the government had to seek a trust vote at a time its attention was on the economy, especially on controlling inflation and “implementing the welfare programmes for the people, particularly the farmers”.
The opposition Telugu Desam Party’s hopes of joining the Left and the Bahujan Samaj Party in a grand alliance1 were set back when the party split on the confidence motion (Hindustan Times, 23 July).
There is also dissension within the Left, with Somnath Chatterjee, the first Marxist to become a Lok Sabha Speaker, expelled from the Communist Party India (Marxist)2 for presiding over Singh’s call for confidence (Hindustan Times, 23 July).
So, at least for now, Singh and his government appear as strong as ever, and well positioned for general elections that must be held by late spring, 2009.
Often referred to as a Third Front, after the governing Congress-led United Progressive Alliance and the main opposition, BJP-led, National Democratic Alliances [↩]
Yes, the parenthetical adjective is part of its name: CPI(M). His having been chosen to be Speaker had been part of the agreement between the Left and the UPA, which was broken two weeks ago when the Left pulled support over the minority government’s nuclear deal. [↩]
Continuing a theme from the previous India planting (click the country name in the planted in line of this one)…
The ruling Congress Party and its pre-poll allies in the United Progressive Alliance are working on arrangements with new allies who might help them govern without the need of support from the Left Alliance after the next election.
Before we will even know when the next election is–it is not due till spring–the government must get past an upcoming threat of a no-confidence motion. And, there is some question of whether the government’s own plan for a confidence vote is legal.
The preliminary pre-poll alliance plans concern the Samajwadi Party (SP), reports S Shivakumar, in Merinews
The understanding as of now seems to be that the constituencies wherein the SP performed better than the Congress at the last elections will go the SP way and the constituencies wherein the Congress performed better than the SP at the last elections will go the Congress way. This is based on the principle that both parties should approach the issue of seat-sharing objectively, which means ground reality has to be factored in. What better way to gauge the ground reality than the actual performance of the two parties in the elections last held in the state? Even this obviously simple modus operandi would involve several rounds of talks on the part of both the parties [because of bargaining over concessions regarding the cabinet].
“Seat-sharing” here means that one partner would not present a candidate in a given (single-seat) district, directing its supporters to vote for the candidate of the other.
Meanwhile, as also alluded to here previously, some of the parties of the Left bloc are less than eager to vote no-confidence in the current UPA minority government, despite having formally withdrawn their support for it in parliament. The reason is straightforward.
The Left does not want to precipitate an early poll… The Left knows that never in the future it can win as many Lok Sabha seats and wield so much power (vide, â€˜Left fears the PM will call its bluffâ€™).
I suspect that is correct.
Another item, from Reuters, discusses the policy interests of an alliance between the “pro-business” SP and UPA: Govt shackled over reforms, even without left as ally. The story also suggests that the UPA is not keen on early elections, either, due to inflation. On that “shackling” claim in the headline:
Key state elections are due later this year and federal elections next year and the government is keen to be seen tackling soaring prices rather than lose more popular support with controversial reforms.
(Besides, although not clear in either story linked here, in the current parliament, the UPA+SP remain short of a majority.)
In addition to the pre-election coalitions and inter-election bargaining in a multi-party parliament, that quote points up another of the key salient aspects of Indian politics and policy-making: federalism, specifically with staggered elections in states where the “minor” federal parties are often locally major parties.
Finally, a Hindustan Times item has some interesting discussions of the procedures surrounding confidence and no-confidence votes in the Indian parliament, noting that a government seeking a confidence vote is “highly irregular.” That is, at least by one interpretation, under Indian law “the onus of proving that a government is in a minority is on the Opposition and those who move a motion of no-confidence. By withdrawing support from the government outside the House, the Left parties have proved nothing… So the floor test is the final test, but only after a motion of no-confidence.”
Indian politics, always interesting, are really getting interesting about now!
The Indian government empowered after the 2004 election faces its first real governance crisis today as the Left Alliance has withdrawn its support from the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) cabinet. The government was formed when the UPA, a pre-election coalition of the Indian National Congress and numerous state-specific parties, won the most seats, but less than a majority at the election. It formed a minority government with formal support from outside provided by the alliance of leftist parties. It is a conflict over the terms of “outside support” that has generated this crisis. Specifically, the UPA has told the Left that it can’t share the terms of the nuclear pact it has negotiated with the International Atomic Energy Administration with “third parties.”
That the governing agreement would fail some time in 2008, and that it would likely come to a head over the contentious issue of the US-India nuclear accord, is less than surprising. Elections are due by May, 2009, and have been widely expected to come sooner. The UPA and Left each have no other certain allies in the current parliament with which to form a majority,1 which means the government may survive a while until the UPA decides it is time to go to the polls and seek a majority on its own (possibly including new pre-poll allies). The Left, on the other hand, needs to emphasize its independence leading up to elections.
The UPA government is expected to call a confidence (or “trust“) vote on 11 August. Presumably it will survive, for now, as the Left will not want to vote along with the opposition BJP and force either an immediate election or a temporary BJP minority government leading up to elections.
The first-linked item notes that the government’s parliamentary backing “would go up to 265 with the support of the Samajwadi Party’s 39 MPs, but leave it still seven short of the 272 MPs needed for majority support.” [↩]
With national elections required within the coming year, any election for the legislative assembly in a major Indian state acquires added importance. In that light, the recent election and post-electoral bargaining in Karnataka is critical.1 It appears that the BJP has earned the ability to form the new government in the state. It won 110 of 224 seats in the election, and seems to have secured commitments from five of the six independents who were elected, which would be sufficient to form a majority. The Congress party, which continues to head a minority government at the center, had won the previous (1999) Karnataka election (132 seats on 40.8% of the vote).
From here, this looks like a pretty stinging defeat of Congress, which has essentially admitted that it has no intention to try to form a minority or coalition state government after this result.
â€œWe accept defeat. The people voted for us to sit in the Opposition and we will play that role, exposing the BJP,â€ said AICC2 general secretary in charge of Karnataka Prithviraj Chavan. Spokesman Manish Tiwari too said: â€œThe Congress will try to fulfil its responsibility as an Opposition party.â€
Shivakumar admitted a group of Congress leaders had met the four Independent legislators, but insisted it was only to exchange notes on what went wrong. â€œWe cannot match the inducements the BJP leaders are offering. I believe they are being tempted with Rs 50 crore each,â€ he said.
The allegations of “inducements” of the sort indicated have not been confirmed.
With nearly 53 million population and the booming capital city of Bangalore, Karnataka certainly qualifies as one of India’s major states. [↩]
All India Congress Committee, the coordinating body between the federal Congress Party and its various state wings. [↩]
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4