With the announcement of the 15th Indian general elections – to be held in five phases from April 16 to May 13 - curtains go up on the biggest carnival of democracy in the world.
No other country on earth has a 71.4 crore (714 million) strong electorate, like India’s. The second-biggest electorate, the US’, has 210 million voters - less than one-third of India’s. Never in the history of mankind has this big a population voted to decide who would rule them. Poll vault open
Twenty-four per cent of Indian voters - 17 crore (170 million) - are between the ages of 18 and 35. That is more than the populations of 161 countries in the world. This will also be the first election that reflects India’s urbanization over the last three decades.
All parties are likely to field more young candidates and raise issues that concern the youth. “Both the UPA and the Congress will go the extra mile to give the young and urban voters — which overlap substantially — a sense of participation in the growth of India,” says Manish Tiwari, Congress spokesperson. “BJP’s decisive approach to governance will endear us to the youth who crave for a resurgent India,” says Ravi Shankar Prasad, BJP spokesperson.
But there isn’t a monolith called the youth vote, warns historian Ramachandra Guha. “Youth themselves are divided along regional, ideological, religious and caste lines. Unless there is an Obama-like figure who can create a huge hype, there cannot be a homogenous youth vote in India.” Technically, Young India can swing the election outcome – the difference between Congress and BJP, India’s principal parties, was only four per cent in 2004 and 0.4 per cent in 1998.
At the level of leadership too, a generational shift is evident. Several key players of 2004 will be missing this time. VP Singh, Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Chandra Shekhar are no more, while Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Jyoti Basu will be staying away from the action on account of old age.
This is the first election that will take into account India’s massive urbanization over the last three decades.
In 2004, Lok Sabha constituencies were based on the population spread as per the 1971 census; this time, it will be based on the census of 2001. Between 1971 and 2001, urban population has nearly doubled and the number of towns has gone up from 2,590 to 5,161. In 1971 there were 22 people in cities for every 100 in the countryside; in 2001 there were 38.
Voters of urban India will have a higher say compared to 2004 and will be wooed by parties perhaps for the first time. For instance, Bangalore will elect four members to the 15th Lok Sabha compared to three in the 14th in 2004. Thane district in suburban Mumbai will elect three compared to one in 2004 and Hyberabad and suburbs will elect four instead of two.
It is the reason why parties will talk about interest rates on home loans in their manifestoes.
“Development issues will have a higher resonance in urban areas and identity politics will have a different character,” says Anant Kumar, sociologist at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
For both the BJP and the Congress, stitching up the right alliances will be crucial. Good alliances in a couple of big states can swing the elections for either party.
The Congress was catapulted into power in Delhi in 2004 by its alliances in Andhra Pradesh, which won it 34 of 42 seats, and Tamil Nadu where its allies won all 39.
Both states remain crucial for both the Congress and the BJP.
With inputs from Vikas Pathak