Indian Voters Journey Through Elections
If you ask an average Indian voter about the state of the nation, rarely you will get an answer that it is in good health. If you persist, the voter will reel out a list of demands which have never been fulfilled. The standard response is that, they see the politicians only during election times and not in between. A very large number of voters either do not know the name of their MP or MLA and may have never seen them. The only participation of the voters is when they go to cast their votes.
In spite of such indifference, Indians are coming out to vote in larger numbers. In many constituencies voter turn out it is between 80 - 90% and 70-75% is now becoming the norm. If voters are not satisfied why do they go out and vote? Boycotting of elections is a rare phenomenon.
In the first three general elections after independence, voters voted with hope and aspirations of electing a government which was formed by Indians and reflected the will of Indians as against the pre-independence foreign rule. The towering personality of Jawaharlal Nehru inspired confidence among the voters till 1962 Indo-China conflict created a dent. Congress was the dominant party and formed government on its own majority. The country saw progress in the sense that groundwork was laid for future in heavy industries, power generation, education, health etc. Voters were patient as they acknowledged the fact that with limited fiscal resources governments had to be given time to perform. The voters were voting for consolidation of the democratic process and gave landslide victories to the Congress party under whose leadership India had also won its freedom.
The India-Pakistan war of 1965 was to effectively restore confidence in a shamed nation after the 1962 China war. Also Nehru had passed away in 1964 and Shastri suddenly died in Tashkent in 1966. Indira's rise to the PM's post was resented by many elder leaders within the Congress. In the 1967, fourth general elections, Congress for the first time won with a slender majority, winning 283 seats in a house of 520 members. The voter had shown their anger and put the dominant party on alert. incidentally the newly launched Swatantra Party, advocating free enterprise and economic reforms was the second largest party with 44 members followed by Jan Sangh with 35 members.
The internal strife within the Congress led to its finally splitting in 1969, into two parties, with Indira heading the breakaway Indian National Congress (R) and the original party now was called INC(O). The elections were held in March 1971 and the voters were swayed by the 'Garibi Hatao' slogan of Indira. Hope once again decided the voters choice and Indira's party won a massive landslide victory getting 352 seats. It was an Indira wave across the country and voters were voting for progress under younger leaders rather than old one's leading the parent Congress party.
The Indian voters for the first time showed their power. In the sixth general elections held in 1977, held after lifting the emergency imposed in June 1975, the Congress party was voted out of power for the first time. The anger of the voters saw the emergence of the Janata Party a coalition of many opposition parties, winning 298 seats against Congress's 153 seats. The voter had shown their resentment at the suspension of civil liberties during the period of emergency. That Indians loved civil liberties and democracy was proved by this behavior of the voters. It was South which saved Congress as the excesses of the emergency were not as harsh as they were in North and West . In fact in many parts of India like UP, Bihar and Bengal strong seeds of anti Congress feelings were strengthened and have continued till today.
However the Janata Party was not able to provide a strong government in Delhi and collapsed in 1980 and fresh elections were held. In a remarkable display voters reelected Indira and Congress with a huge majority giving them 374 seats against 41 to Janata Party. It was clear that the voter recognized the leadership qualities of Indira but resented her autocratic behavior. They punished her by voting her out in 1977 and felt she had learnt her lesson and thus massively supported her again. A chastened Indira had learnt her lesson.
However in 1984 following the Operation Bluestar, her bodyguards killed Indira and elections were announced. The 1984 elections were swept by a massive sympathy wave and Congress emerged victorious with 416 seats in the Lok Sabha. The Indian voter had voted out of emotion and also the fact that Rajiv Gandhi was seen as a young and modern person who also exuded charm.
However the 1989 elections saw a reversal of fortunes for the Congress as it was once again voted out of power winning only 143 seats. The coalition of opposition parties Janata Party led buy V P Singh won 197 seats and form a shaky government. The Indian voter had voted against the alleged corruption in the purchase of the Swedish Bofors gun. For the first time corruption was a major issue and the voters showed their resentment.
V P Singh's government lasted only 16 months and fresh elections were held in May-June 1991. It was known as the Mandal-Mandir elections as the society was divided into forward and backward castes clashing because of 27% reservations to OBC's and the Ram Janmabhoomi Babri Masjid issue gathering storm. It was India's fist polarized election and voters were expected to vote in a polarized manner. However the unfortunate assassination of Rajiv Gandhi on May 21, 1991 was to once again create a sympathy wave for the Congress party. It won 244 seats against 120 won by BJP, and managed to run a minority government for its full term during which Indian economy was moved away from socialism to globalization and reforms were introduced. The Indian voter who was angry with the Congress till May 20th by which time nearly votes for nearly 200 seats were cast turned emotional and increasingly voted for Congress in the postponed mid June elections for the remaining seats. Once again emotion had the better of the Indian voter.
The elections to the 11th Lok Sabha, in 1996, saw the Indian voter for the first time vote a hung Parliament. The national parties had joined with regional parties as on their own they were not sure of gaining a strong foothold. The emergence of a third front also took place.The Congress suffered its worst performance getting only 140 seats. BJP and its allies got 187 seats and the Janata Dal and its allies got 192 seats. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was invited to form the government but gave up after 13 days as he could not garner the required majority. Congress declined to form the government. The chance was then given to Janata Dal who formed the government with Dewe Gowda as the PM and with Congress giving outside support. Congress withdrew support to him and another Janata Dal leader I K Gujral became PM. But these were shaky arrangements which lasted for only two years before fresh elections were called. The Indian voter had got distributed between different ideologies and also between national and regional parties. The result was not only a hung Parliament but also political uncertainty.
Elections were held in 1998. The voters for the first time gave the BJP more seats than Congress. BJP got 182 vs 141 of Congress. The Indian voter had once again not given a clear verdict in favour of a single party or coalition. It was clear that the voters were not breaking away entirely from the Congress and also not wholeheartedly joining the BJP. Voters had also voted for many regional parties whose members also became MP's in significant numbers. It was clear that increasing number of voters were becoming regional in their outlook. A marked change was taking place in the voters of many states. The fragmentation of the voters choices, saw the 12th Lok Sabha last only for a year before fresh elections were again called in September 1999.
The BJP led NDA was able to get 270 seats and formed the government with outside support of TDP's 29 seats. It was the first non-Congress government to last its full term. The voting pattern showed that both the national parties were unable once again to get a majority on their own, The voters were encouraging the coming together of a number of parties to form the government. The coalition form of government had been firmly established and was to be the model for future governments. The voters in many states like Tamil Nadu, Punjab, UP, Bihar, AP, were voting for regional parties and these were playing a role at government formation at the Center.
It was election time again in 2004 to elect the 14th Lok Sabha. It was widely predicted and believed that the BJP led NDA would be returned to power. However the Indian voter sprang a major surprise. NDA"s 'shining India' campaign failed to impress the average voter. Congress led UPA 1 was voted to power and Sonia Gandhi sprang a surprise by declining to assume the PM's post, instead offering it to Dr Manmohan Singh. The voter in the rural areas was not interested in only selected urban pockets make progress and voted the BJP led NDA out of power.
In 2009 again it was expected that the 15th Lok Sabha would be controlled by BJP led NDA. The voters continued their support for the UPA it formed the government again as UPA 2 led by Dr Manmohan Singh. Congress got 206 seats against BJP's 116 seats, The UPA could garner the total support of 322 members in the 543 member Lok Sabha.
From the above voting pattern of Indian voters it can be observed that no single party is able to get a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha since 1996. In fact, both the national parties Congress and BJP are not able to attract majority support for their manifestos. They have to fight the elections along with other, mostly regional parties and also seek support from other, again regional parties to form the government. The voters are not ready to transfer their loyalties from regional parties to either of the two national parties. Strong regional outfits like TMC, AIADMK, DMK, BJD, RJD, NC, Akali Dal, ,SP, BSP,SS etc are able to corner more than one third of the Lok Sabha seats.
This puts the BJP and the Congress in a weak position as they have to compromise their agendas to accommodate the smaller regional parties agendas for their support in government formation. The quality of governance goes down. It has also started affecting the conduct of the country's foreign policy.
The Indian voter has in a large measure moved away from a significant national perspective in the years after independence to a significant local perspective which started in 1996. It seems the agenda of the national parties does not appeal to the voters to wean them away from local parties. The narrow issues of caste, religion or language are found more uniting by the voters on a pan India basis. There are no serious expectations from major political parties and therefore segregation into common identity groups is preferred. After Indira Gandhi there has been no leader who could catch the country's imagination and thus local leaders appeal is stronger.
However in the 2014 ongoing elections, it does seem that governance is becoming a major issue. Voters are taking into account the issues of corruption. scams, state of economy, quality and style of leadership factors and there is a growing expectation that this election may see the Indian voter voting for a national party in larger numbers than in the past few elections.However there are planned attempts to polarize the voters especially on religious grounds in major states. How the voters will respond will be known only when the final results are declared..
The Indian voter is an alert voter live to the issues on hand and his verdict is both sought and feared by the politicians. The largest democracy in the world is sustained by the increased participation of the voters in all of India in a peaceful and safe environment. The voters exercise their right to vote as per their choice for the candidate or party they feel will serve them the best for the next five years. However the voter also is aware of the fact that his expectations are generally not fulfilled by the elected representatives. Yet it is a tribute to the humble Indian voter that he he does not allow his dissatisfaction to prevent him from exercising his right to vote. The voter understands the responsibility of forming a responsible government.
Long live Indian democracy !!
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