THE world’s largest democracy in terms of population is India, and yesterday the largest electorate anywhere on the planet began voting in the country’s latest General Election

Over the next five weeks, Indian citizens will cast their votes in what is officially the world’s largest ever poll. The voting across the vastness of India will take place in seven phases, ending on May 19. Counting will take place on May 23, and the result will be known shortly afterwards, possibly within three hours due to India’s advanced voting system.


THEY are mind-boggling. Some 900 million people are eligible to vote, which is a population bigger than the US and European Union combined. Turnout is expected to be high, probably around the 6% mark which will mean 600m people voting. Voters in 29 states and seven federally-administered territories will elect 543 members to the lower house of parliament called the “Lok Sabha” or House of the People. That’s 107 fewer MPs than the UK elects to the House of Commons. To win the election outright, a political party or a coalition of parties must win 273 seats. There are at least 2354 political parties registered with the Election Commission of India which is an independent autonomous body under the Indian constitution. Only around 500 of the parties are expected to field candidates.

Just to complicate matters, elections will also be held for the states assemblies in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim.

The counts will be supervised by the world’s largest cohort of election officials, all 11m of them. Indians will have around 1m voting stations, and will be able to use 2.3m electronic voting machines that were first introduced in India in 1982. British electronic voting machines in 2019? That will be nil, then.


THE main parties are led by the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which won a landslide victory in the last elections five years ago. It was the first time a party had won an outright majority in three decades.

The BJP is led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has set out to lead India on a tough-guy image and without a doubt he remains very popular and the BJP’s main vote-getter.

The 68-year-old leader’s promises of economic growth have not quite worked out, but he has been assisted by the recent conflict with Pakistan which has enabled him to talk tough.

Modi’s populist approach included his recent announcement that India destroyed a low-orbiting satellite using a ballistic missile, a feat only previously carried out by the US, China and Russia. Modi’s claim that India is now in the space super league went down well with a population that is space geeky at times. The BJP is favoured to win but recent opinion polls show that the result is too close to call, not least because of the resurgence of the chief opposition party, Congress, which dominated Indian politics for decades before Modi’s arrival. Congress is led by Rahul Gandhi of the most famous Indian family of them all. His father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all Prime Ministers of India. His sister, Priyanka Gandhi, formally launched her political career in January. They are both the children of Sonia Gandhi, the Italian-born window of the assassinated Rajiv Gandhi. She will also be standing in the election.

The Gandhis have accused Modi of stoking nationalist fervour to win votes, and have made a great impact by focusing on the BJP’s perceived failings in the handling of the economy. No other potential Prime Minister has emerged, with none of the other main party leaders polling in double figures.

The money’s on Modi, but it may be that Gandhi will need the support of other parties to form a coalition, in which case Mamata Banerjee, a former Congress member and the first woman to be chief minister of West Bengal, may be his first call.


THE most eye-catching offer comes from Gandhi. According to Al Jazeera, he has offered 50m of India’s poorest families – an estimated 250m people – a guaranteed basic income equivalent to $1000 a year. Not surprisingly that policy has gone down well in India’s poorest states where the rate of suicides among the farming community has soared due to grinding poverty – Gandhi has made great play of that fact.

Responding to that attack, Modi has promised new welfare schemes for India’s farmers, while he continues to talk tough on defence issues and has pledged renewed economic growth in the world’s fifth largest economy by GDP, having overtaken the UK.


THE system is not perfect and allegations of voter fraud and “missing” names on the electoral roll are made all the time, but a new audit system has been introduced. No voter is supposed to travel more than 2km to reach a polling station which in 2014 saw a polling station set up to accommodate one voter.

The Indian people are fiercely proud of their democracy and will have been saddened by the news that yesterday’s opening phase was marred by violence. Two people died in separate clashes at polling stations in Andhra Pradesh state and a bomb targeted a polling station in Chhattisgarh state, though no one was injured.