With 968 million voters and 545 seats: The world’s largest democratic exercise begins in India

India elections: First rounds of polling to begin with Narendra Modi expected to hold on to powe

The first of seven rounds of polling in India’s general elections, spread over nearly as many weeks and featuring more than 968 million voters, kicks off on Friday in the world’s largest democratic exercise.

Friday’s voting in the first-past-the-post electoral system will take place in 102 of 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament. Two members of the Anglo-Indian will subsequently be nominated as MPs by the Indian president, bringing the total number of seats to 545.

Following another six rounds, voting will conclude on June 1st and the outcome will be known three days later.

Surveys indicate that after a decade in office, prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is expected to return to power for a third five-year term.


The only other prime minister to secure three consecutive terms was Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s independence hero in1947-1964.

There is no “clear and close challenger” to the BJP, which has a 12 per cent lead over an alliance of opposition parties, a recent survey by the Centre for Developing Societies (CSDS) in New Delhi has shown. Although some of the 10,019 respondents complained about rising unemployment and growing economic distress, four in 10 said they would vote for the BJP. Nearly half opted for Modi as their preferred choice for prime minister, echoing numerous appraisals of his popularity.

The pre-poll forecasts differ only over the number of seats the BJP is projected to win. Modi has predicted the BJP will capture 370 parliamentary seats, 67 more than its present tally of 303 and 98 more than the 272 MPs needed by any single party or coalition to form the federal government.

So unqualified is Modi’s confidence, he has tasked senior officials in most federal ministries to prepare a 100-day “roadmap” for his new government.

Analysts say the BJP’s optimism stems largely from having executed its long-standing promise to build a temple to the Hindu god Ram at Ayodhya in north India, in place of a 16th century mosque that was demolished by Hindu zealots in 1992.

The Ram temple, scheduled for completion by the end of 2025, was inaugurated by Modi in January, specifically with the impending elections in mind. “The temple’s construction and its consecration [by Modi] has helped the BJP consolidate Hindu identity and pride,” the CSDS poll revealed.

About 80 per cent of India’s population of 1.4 billion are Hindus, who have been championed by the BJP in its long-standing agenda for propagating Hindutva, or Hindu hegemony. Muslims comprise about 15 per cent of the population.

India’s annual economic growth rate of about 7.2 per cent, a buoyant stock market and generous government welfare schemes that include the distribution of free grain to more than 800 million households and a monthly stipend of 1,250 rupees (€14) to women from low-income families, has also attracted BJP voters.

These measures are supplemented by widely publicised “guarantees” by Modi if he is elected. They include free rations to more than 800 million families for five years and individual healthcare of up to,000 rupees (€5,637) for all citizens over 70. The provision of 30 million homes to those in need and free power are also promised.

Modi, who often refers to himself in the third person, said at a recent election rally: “Whenever hope fades, Modi’s guarantees begin.”

Political observers say the BJP’s decisive edge in the polls is boosted by a fractured opposition that is rife with incessant infighting, large-scale defections by several of its leaders to the Hindu nationalists and the lack of a cohesive electoral strategy.

The Congress Party leads the 26-party opposition, known as the Indian Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA). Commentators say Congress is reluctant to co-operate on seat sharing.

They have raised the issues of growing unemployment, crony capitalism and income disparity – with 1 per cent of rich Indians controlling 40.1 per cent of the country’s entire wealth – but to little avail.

INDIA bloc members have also accused the BJP of “weaponising” state investigative agencies against several of their leaders for assorted, albeit nebulous, wrongdoings that remain unproven. This has led to two state chief ministers from the bloc being jailed recently on corruption charges – rendering them unable to campaign for the elections.

Political scientist Gilles Verniers told the BBC recently that there appears to be no “ideological binding force” uniting the opposition to combat the robust Hindu nationalism projected by Modi and the BJP. Instead, he said, INDIA bloc members are putting their own interest ahead of the general interest (of defeating the BJP).

India election: facts and figures

The elections are being conducted and monitored by the three-member Election Commission of India (ECI).

Total eligible electorate: 968 million voters.

Number of seats in the lower house of parliament: 545, of which two are reserved for members of the Anglo-Indian community. These two seats are nominated by the president.

Who wins: The party or coalition that secures a minimum of 272 seats in the first-past-the-post system, for a five-year term. The lower house or Lok Sabha then chooses the prime minister, who, in turn, appoints his cabinet.

Voting dates: Polling via electronic voting machines will be conducted in seven phases – beginning April 19th and ending on June 1st – to ensure adequate security at 1.05 million polling booths. These stretch from the northern Himalayas to the remote western desert region of Rajasthan and the island territories off the country’s east and west coasts. In a handful of instances, ECI officials will trek long distances through forested and hilly terrain to enable just one voter each to cast their ballot.

Security: More than 340,000 federal security personnel, in addition to similar number of state police forces, will be deployed during polling.

Results: Declared on June 4th.

Number of parties: India has 57 recognised and 2,999 unrecognised political parties, but just 10 of them occupy 86 per cent of parliamentary seats. In the current parliament, these principally include the BJP with 303 seats and the Congress Party with 52. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or Dravidian Progressive Federation, from southern India, is the third largest party with 38 MPs.