In stereotypically South Asian fashion, the announcement of the dates of India’s general elections was greeted by violent clashes between rival political parties. The election will be a marathon, beginning on April 7 through till May 12, depending on factors such as security, the harvest season, and “auspicious” dates.The election numbers are staggering: 814 million voters shall elect 543 assemblymen to represent them in India’s lower house, including a new Prime Minister. As the New York Times points out:
India’s national elections are a huge administrative undertaking involving 11 million government workers, 930,000 polling stations and 1.7 million electronic voting machines, with administrative costs expected to exceed $645 million. The Election Commission sends personnel and supplies to every corner of India using cars, trains, planes, elephants, mules, camels and boats, said V. S. Sampath, the chief election commissioner.
The politics is as dizzying as the numbers. Unlike the United States, where most states are either red or blue, India is made up of 50 shades of purple. Neither of the two largest parties—the right-wing, business-friendly, Hindu nationalist BJP and the unpopular, incumbent, rural-friendly Congress, led by the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty—is able to win a majority in parliament. Indian electoral politics requires them to make alliances with regional parties in key states. The regional parties generally tend to reflect the linguistic, religious and caste-based divisions within India, and tend to be unreliable allies. Regional leaders like Jayalalithaa (Tamil Nadu) and Mamata Banerjee (West Bengal) have political ambitions of their own, and try to extract as much from the central parties as they can.Still, as in the United States, it’s the few big states that will decide the election. Uttar Pradesh, according to the New York Times, has “the electoral heft of a California-Ohio-Michigan combination, the uncertainty of a Florida recount, the political tricks of a South Carolina primary and the stark community divisions of Mississippi.” It is also India’s most populous state, with a population roughly the size of Brazil’s. Uttar Pradesh is up for grabs in this election, and both BJP and Congress leaders have been forging alliances, organizing rallies and campaigning intensely to win the state.Maharashtra ( which has a population the size of Mexico’s) Bihar, and Tamil Nadu are also key battleground states. So far, all polls point to a BJP or a BJP-coalition victory, but Indian polls are notoriously unreliable.Indian politicians and voters, and those watching the election with interest, should prepare for a long, exhausting, and explosive election battle.