India went to polls for the sixteenth Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament, in April-May. It was the longest election in the country's history and the world's largest ever election. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won convincingly. Corruption, price rises, slow economic growth, unemployment, terrorism and communalism, and the external security challenges were all important issues. But the election revolved around one man: Narendra Damodardas Modi, hailed as an excellent economic performer and administrator. In the coming days he will be closely watched for his initiatives to fix the economy and a number of pressing issues and how he leads a nation of 1.2 billion people.
Between 7 April and 12 May 2014 India went to the polls to elect the sixteenth Lok Sabha, the lower house of the Indian Parliament. With nine phases, this was the longest election in the country's history. An estimated 814 million voters in a nation of 1.27 billion were eligible to use their adult franchise to elect 543 parliamentary representatives for the new government in New Delhi. This was an increase of 100 million voters from the 2009 electoral list. Women voters represented 49 per cent of the total electorate, and around 23.1 million or 2.7 per cent of the total eligible voters were aged 18-19 years. In this world-record election, some 540 million people (66.4 per cent of eligible voters) went to the polls. This was a record turnout, and a large increase on the 417 million voters (58.2 per cent) of the 2009 election. (1)
A total of 8251 candidates from dozens of national and regional parties contested the 543 Lok Sabha seats. The three main contenders were the incumbent Congress (officially the Indian National Congress)-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, the Aam Aadmi Party based on an anti-corruption movement led by Arvind Kejriwal, and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) under the Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Damodardas Modi.
The verdict is historic as the National Democratic Alliance won the election convincingly, gaining 336 of the 543 seats. The BJP on its own crossed the majority mark of 272, and ended up grabbing 282 seats. This is the first time a single party has secured an outright majority since 1984, when the Congress Party did so after the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Also, it is the first time a non-Congress party has secured a clear-cut majority in the Lower House, and the first time an alliance will be needed to form an opposition. It is the Congress Party's worst ever defeat--it won only 44 seats and, with its UPA allies, 58. (2)
A number of pressing issues such as corruption, price rises, slow economic growth, unemployment, terrorism and communalism, and the external security challenges became decisive factors in giving the BJP such a historic mandate. A crucial factor, however, was the persona and the leadership of its prime ministerial candidate, now the fifteenth prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, around whom the entire election revolved. Ever since he became the BJP's candidate, he has attracted international attention because of controversies surrounding him. This article will examine the issues that played a significant role in the outcome of the election, will scan the performance of the Congress and the BJP and will look at the likely foreign policy of the Modi-led BJP government.
From day one the issues of corruption and the economy were prominent, and the political parties began their campaign around them. While the Congress-led UPA government did well on the economic, social and foreign policy achievements of its first term (2004-09), its second term (2009-14) was marred by corruption, a slow economy, a feeble response to terrorism, an unimpressive foreign policy and a persistent deadlock resulting from smugness and lack of co-ordination within the government. The worst shortcomings were the failure to curb corruption and inability to deliver economic improvement. Despite the government's efforts to bring the people out of poverty through schemes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) and the introduction of a Food Security Bill, the economically marginalised section of India continued to fall victim to rising inflation and the high prices of essential commodities. In August 2013, the Indian rupee sank to an all time low of 68.80 against the US dollar, and India's GDP growth almost halved in just three years, falling from 9.3 per cent in 2010-11 to around 5 per cent in the 2012-13 fiscal year. Economic slowdown and shrinking business opportunities have affected job creation in India over the last two years, and the unemployment rate has increased from 3.5 per cent in 2011 to 3.7 per cent in 2013. A...