Democracy for 1.43 billion citizens


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It seems that all superlative epithets have been used to characterize these elections, which will determine the balance of political forces and the composition of parliament in the world’s largest country by population (last year India, home to more than 1.43 billion people, surpassed China by this indicator). The longest, the largest, the most democratic, and so on.

Indeed, no country in the world has held elections for 44 days in a row as India will. The marathon started on April 19 and will end with the counting of votes on June 4. The authorities explain such a long voting by the scale of the country and the number of voters, totaling 968.6 million people. This, by the way, is more than the population of the entire European Union, the United States and Russia combined. In addition, more than 2,700 parties will take part in this year’s elections. Where else have you seen such a thing?

All this and much more formally allows us to speak of Indian democracy as the largest on the planet. At the same time, of course, we must make a reservation: Western-style democracy.

This is a case where size is of particular importance. In order to give the right to vote to almost a billion people, it requires the deployment of more than 1.2 million polling stations in a country with difficult terrain and climatic conditions. By the way, the number of voters has increased by 84 million since the previous election in 2019. And according to Indian electoral law, polling stations must be located at least two kilometers away from the voter. So the election commissions and their guards (a total of 15 million people are involved) sometimes have to climb mountains, cross rivers and go deep into national parks where wild animals live.

But in terms of quality, this democracy is not the most backward. There, for example, online voting is not developed there like in Russia, but there is no voting by mail, which is traditional for the USA. Among purely Indian inventions we can note the absence of paper ballots, voting is carried out with the help of autonomous electronic portable devices (in 2024 there will be 5.5 million of them), which receive votes and count them automatically. Cheaper and easier than paper, and more environmentally friendly. And special ink, which is indelible for several days, is used to prevent repeated voting by waving the fingers of voters. Otherwise, the Indian electoral system has all the nuances of bourgeois democracy: attempts to bribe voters, use of administrative resources, and so on.

The ruling coalition — the National Democratic Alliance of 41 parties led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose leader, Narendra Modi, is the Prime Minister of India, is currently in power. Accordingly, the opposition I.N.D.I.A bloc of parties (rather amorphous, though), led by the Indian National Congress headed by Rahul Gandhi (a descendant of a prominent family), accuses the government of illegally seizing the party’s accounts, which has sharply complicated its election work.

Another major election story involves the arrest of the leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, part of the opposition bloc, Delhi Metropolitan District Mayor Arvind Kejriwal. This Kejriwal appeared to be a particular political threat to the BJP, and was accused of corruption and arrested. Opposition appealed to the Supreme Court and Western countries argued that an opponent should not be jailed before elections, but nothing worked.

Another large-scale scandal involves law enforcement agencies seizing a considerable amount of funds meant for vote-buying. According to the Election Commission of India, the total value of confiscated cash, alcohol, precious metals and even drugs amounted to 46.5 billion rupees (about $557 million) — a record in the country’s history. To be fair, law enforcement agencies confiscated the most funds in the two BJP stronghold states of Rajasthan and Gujarat, the home of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

But in general, according to indologists interviewed by GEOFOR who have worked in the country for many years, Indian democracy is capable of revealing the true preferences of the people. Otherwise, the political upheaval of 2014, when the ruling Indian National Congress party failed in the elections and ceded the reins of power to the BJP and its satellites, would not have happened. Now the BJP, by all estimates, also claims an overwhelming majority in parliament (about 370 seats), although Modi has set a more ambitious goal of winning an absolute constitutional majority of 400 seats (out of 542). And a political party needs to win 272 seats in the Lok Sabha to form a government. This is the lower house of parliament, the balance of forces in which determines the main thing: the composition of the government and who will become prime minister. India is a parliamentary republic with a federal system. There is a president, but he is chosen by an electoral college and does not play the same role as the prime minister.

The BJP’s success at the beginning of the elections, according to experts, will ensure stable and one of the most dynamic rates of economic development in the world. During the BJP’s rule, India has stepped up to fifth place in the world in terms of GDP, behind only the US, China, Germany and Japan. The figure of Modi himself, whose approval ratings are approaching 80%, is also important. In fact, his blog has over 98 million followers. And this is taking into account the relative underdevelopment of the Internet in India.

The prime minister officially has no wife and children, and the leader calls the Indian people his family. The main goal of his third prime ministerial term Modi calls India’s transformation into the world’s third economy. He promises to increase GDP to $5 trillion by 2027 and turn India into a developed country by 2047, when it will celebrate 100 years of independence.

As we can see, the plans of the current leader of India extend far beyond his third elected term, giving his opponents an excuse to talk about “conserving” power. Indologists also note that the Indian people are tired of the long stay in power of one party. However, the majority is inclined to forgive many things, seeing the country’s successes. And while the opposition points to persistent gross inequalities, this shortcoming is compensated for in the broader Indian masses, for example, by the nationalism of the ruling coalition, which plays on Hindu values in contrast to, for example, Islamic ones.

Apparently, the power and scale of Indian democracy is also taken into account in the West, demonstrating a rather pragmatic approach to India and its peculiarities. While not abandoning their attempts to influence it, they realize that they are unable to defeat or change it. Therefore, they are willing to work with any Indian prime minister, even Modi, although they do not like him very much. In recent years, the Indian leadership seems to have fully realized this. That is why they generally respect electoral procedures and strive to ensure that the result corresponds to the true state of affairs.

The responsible attitude of the population is also in line with this. In the previous similar elections in 2019, the turnout was nearly 70 percent. The current election marathon will cost the not-so-rich Indian taxpayer $14.4-plus billion dollars, which is even more than what is spent in the US. In some statements of the Indian elite one can even read a certain pride in their national democracy and a slightly condescending attitude to its Western models.

So they can afford it! Certainly, India should not be taught democracy.