There is no greater democratic spectacle than elections. Each Indian election, bigger and larger in scale than the preceding one, is the grandest experiment the world has in representative politics.
The 16th Lok Sabha elections come at a crucial time in the country’s history. The happy India story – of a country on the upswing, with high growth rates and a huge middle class, feted as the next superpower – has hit the pause button.
Democratic institutions are suffering from a crisis of credibility.
Growth rates are down, employment generation is limited, and uncomfortable questions about cosy politician-businessman networks are out in the open. Indian industry is unhappy, but so are civil society groups who believe not enough has been done to tackle inequality and corruption.
The nature of the contenders makes this an even more significant election. On one hand is a tottering ruling party, unable to reach out to the common citizen.
On the other is an opposition led by a ‘strongman’, whose commitment to the secular character of the state is questioned. Besides the regional outfits, there is also an emerging political force that taps into the anti-establishment sentiment, but it has not yet laid out its prescription for the future.
Which way will Indian voters go? Who will govern India for the next five years? As the electorate prepares to answer those questions, HT takes a look back at India’s electoral history.