Voting Continues in India

(Map image source: IBNLive)


Voters across fourteen states have already gone to the polls in the first six phases of India’s nine phase election. The Election Commission has recorded a remarkably healthy 64 percent average participation in the polls, six points higher than in the 2009 election. High voter turnout indicates that the 2014 elections, which have featured a notable increase in citizen participation in every state except Jammu & Kashmir, are more representative than previous polls, reflecting greater involvement in the political process.

BJP Prospects

Conventional wisdom decrees that high voter turnout will lead to a change in government. The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi, continues to gain momentum. A late surge of support for the BJP has been reported even in states where the party has traditionally not performed well, as in Odisha and West Bengal. The BJP has also benefited from some politicians’ dislike for Modi. Opinion polls suggest parties that have elected not to align with the BJP are dividing the anti-BJP vote, weakening the chances of alternative political parties.

The BJP’s prospects of forming the next government look stronger by the day. However, there are still three more phases of voting to go—the last on May 12—before results are published on May 16.




Predicted outcome

States where direction and scale of outcome seems relatively more predictable


Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh

BJP sweeps

West Bengal

Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress sweeps


Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal sweeps

States where direction seems predictable but not scale



Swing towards Left and away from Congress-led UDF


Swing towards BJP and the RJD-Congress alliance and away from Nitish Kumar’s JD(U)

Punjab, Haryana

Swing towards BJP-led NDA


Swing away from BJP and towards Congress


Congress holds on

Tamil Nadu

Swing towards Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK


Swing away from Congress and towards the AAP and BJP

States where it is hardest to predict direction and scale


Uttar Pradesh

Robust four-cornered fight between BJP, Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party


Congress-NCP vs. BJP-Shiv Sena. The latter seems to be in favour. AAP’s impact remains to be seen.

Andhra Pradesh

Congress is expected to be decimated but it is unclear whether the benefits will accrue to YSR Congress or the Telugu Desam Party.


The recently concluded sixth phase of voting is key because it highlights the role of regional parties. The outcome will impact the prime ministerial ambitions of regional leaders like AIADMK chief J Jayalalithaa and Samajwadi Party (SP) head Mulayam Singh Yadav. Twelve states went to the polls in the sixth phase; of these, five represent significant opportunity for regional parties to play a role. 

Tamil Nadu

Of the four south Indian states that went to polls in phase six, Tamil Nadu presents the most exciting post-election alliance possibilities. The state will vote for 39 seats, and Jayalalithaa, currently the Chief Minister, is aiming for a clean sweep. At the same time, opinion polls suggest that AIADMK has lost momentum lately, and therefore its rival DMK may not expect an outright defeat. This will serve the BJP well in post-election negotiations. This round of voting bears close observation, as parties with pockets of influence in Tamil Nadu's highly fragmented polity tend to exercise a disproportionate influence when post-election alliances are formed.

West Bengal

Also exciting is the four-party race in West Bengal. According to the latest opinion poll released by the NDTV, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) was likely to sweep the state with 28 seats, leaving the Left parties with only nine seats. However, the BJP is closing in on TMC traditional rivals – the Indian National Congress (INC) and The Left Front. Though the BJP’s share is expected to increase, the most important question is which of the three main parties — the TMC, the CPI(M) or the INC — will be most affected.

Uttar Pradesh

Most of the polls and political experts suggest the voting in Uttar Pradesh will be a competition between the BJP, SP and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party.


In Bihar, polling was completed in the sixth phase of the election. Political dynamics in Bihar have changed significantly since the BJP and Janata Dal (United) parted ways. The BJP has managed to seal an alliance with Ram Vilas Paswan’s Lok Janshakti Party (LJP). In an effort to provide a third alternative, 11 non-INC and non-BJP parties met to discuss the possibility of a pre-poll alliance and seat sharing. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar expressed optimism in an interview that a third alternative could play an important role in post-election negotiations. Another key question is what role Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad—who is adamantly anti-Modi—will play.


Polling in key state Maharashtra was also completed. Mumbai saw a record voter turnout of 53 percent, the highest in twenty-five years. The sharp rise in turnout is cause for concern for the Indian INC. “Such a high increase in voting percentage traditionally indicates a strong anti-incumbency sentiment,” said state BJP president Devendra Fadnavis. In 2009, the ruling INC-NCP alliance won all six seats due to division of the opposition vote by Raj Thackeray’s MNS.

In Muslim-dominated areas in the state, the voter turnout which is usually high, was lukewarm. Political analysts attribute this to sourness towards the INC and an unwillingness to vote for the BJP.


The Muslim Voter

Of the 543 parliament seats, Muslim voters account for more than 30 percent of the electorate in 35 constituencies, 21-30 percent in 38 constituencies, 11-20 percent in another 145, and less than 10 percent in 325 constituencies. In Uttar Pradesh, Muslims account for 11 percent of electorate in 54 of 80 seats. Today, there are only 30 Muslims in the Lok Sabha—less than six percent of its 543 seats. There are no Muslim ministers in 13 of 28 states in the country. That includes all four states currently ruled by the BJP, where the party has no Muslim members of the Legislative Assembly as well. Muslims account for just 57 of the total 609 ministers across various states, or about 9 percent.

Indian Muslims, who make up about 13 percent of the country’s more than 1.2 billion population, have never been more concerned about the outcome of a general election. Muslims view Modi with suspicion following the Hindu Muslim riots in Gujarat, in which more than 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed.

The BJP has, for the most part, been successful in keeping the election debate focused on the economy and projecting Modi as a leader that will encourage investment and growth in the country. However, the party is worried over last-minute polarization of Muslim votes against its NDA coalition. Although Muslims have a strong presence only in 46 of 543 constituencies, they greatly influence the outcome of any election.

The Muslim community has strategically voted against the BJP in several previous elections. However, Congress and other regional groups have failed to address Muslims’ concerns over jobs and education, leading to widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo. Many Muslim voters now see the new Aam Adami Party as a possible alternative.

The Muslim vote is crucial for Modi and the BJP. Despite their many attempts to woo Muslim voters, most polls suggest that they have not been successful. If the Muslim vote consolidates against the BJP, it could prevent the BJP-led NDA from reaching a majority.

The Impact of the Economy

Alongside caste and religion, the future of the rupee and the Indian economy has featured prominently in the political discourse. The economy has become, for the first time, one of the key issues for most political parties. The BJP more than the INC, has regularly expressed its views on interest rates, inflation and the rupee, capitalizing on Modi’s perceived success in developing Gujarat economically and into a business-friendly state.

Post-election woes for Raghuram Rajan

In a mid-election development, the BJP has found itself on a collision course with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan is likely to come under political pressure to reverse his stand on inflation if Narendra Modi comes to power.

In January, an RBI panel proposed important changes to target consumer price inflation and create a committee responsible for monetary policy. Congress objected to targeting inflation, wanting the RBI to focus on economic growth. Though the BJP leadership has not spoken on the issue, targeting inflation will be a tough sell for Rajan in a NDA-led coalition era. Strategists in the BJP, confident that Modi’s employment policy pitch appeals to voters, suggest that they would prefer to have a party-chosen candidate at the helm of the bank. Manufacturers and traders, a key constituency for the BJP, have complained that the RBI under Rajan has allowed the rupee to recover too strongly, hurting India's export competitiveness.

Arun Jaitley, a BJP leader tipped to take over as finance minister in the next government, has meanwhile avoided this confrontation. Asked about Rajan in an interview last month, Jaitley said, "If someone is doing a good job, he will certainly continue." Rajan has moderated his rhetoric on inflation, but analysts suggest that the change is in response to cooler inflation, not political pressure.