On April 16th, 2009 the first phase of the voting for the Indian general elections will begin and conclude on May 13th, 2009. This is the 15th general elections in India since it became independent in 1947.
Over a million electronic voting machines:
There are 714 million people that are eligible to vote. About 1,368,430 electronic voting machines have been deployed across the country.
Restructuring of constituencies:
This is the first time where quite a few states have been redistricted to allow more urban representation. Karnataka, especially Bangalore, is a case in point, where because of the redistricting there is an increase in the number of seats from the urban areas, when compared to the rural ones.
40 million more voters:
India’s population is over 1 billion and about 60 percent of the population is under the age of 35 years. There has been a well-coordinated multi-pronged media strategy to reach out to young voters, who form a significant chunk of the Indian electorate. Perhaps for the first time filmmakers and actors from the Indian film industry, especially Bollywood have stepped out of their comfort zone and pitched in to help in either election campaign and voter mobilization. According to one media report there are 40 million more voters in this election, when compared to the previous election held in 2004.
Explosion of online information resources:
What is significantly different about this general election is the amount of information that is available to the Indian voters through different media channels and languages. For instance, tech giants Yahoo! and Google have pitched in and created election special sites that is a mashup of maps, videos, audio and print. Most mainstream media have created election special sites for their online, broadcast and print versions. And then there is the ubiquitous mobile phones where every mobile user gets targeted SMS or voice messages from various political parties.
The Election Commission of India has made available a wide range of information right from how to become a registered voter to political candidates, who have been disqualified to contest in this general elections.
Over a thousand political parties taking part:
According to the Election Commission of India there are a little over 1,000 political parties contesting at the local and national level according to this rather absorbing list of the various political parties and their political symbols. The Election Commission has done such a thorough job that they have also printed a list of free symbols that can be used by the political parties including kite, pressure cooker, diesel pump and kettle among others.
The Election Commission has made available a lengthy document that is 333 pages long that lists 3423 candidates, who have been been disqualified to participate in this election. And perhaps for the first time there is an online website called No Criminals that is geared towards educating voters about political candidates that have a criminal record and stop them from contesting elections. According to one news report the Congress Party has the most number of rich politicians in the country: 121 members.
Myths and predictions:
There are quite a few myths that have built over the years about the Indian electorate. Yogendra Yadav, a well-known psephologist breaks some of the myths in this article published by the BBC. One of the myths that Yadav dispels is that currently more Indian women exercise their right to vote when compared to Indian men. Also, there has been a decline in the number of women, who turn to their husbands for political advice when it comes to voting. But, he does point out that Indian women tend to follow in the footsteps of their husbands when it comes to voting for political parties.
When it comes to the youth votes in India Yadav points out:
There is no evidence to suggest that the young are politically more active than others. If anything, they are less politically active – obviously they have other anxieties in life, like preparing for a professional career.
One of the myths that Yadav did not address is the role of astrology and astrologers and their influence on politicians and their astrological predictions on the election outcome. Already reports have started streaming in from various astrologers that this election will result in a hung parliament meaning no single party wins a clear majority. I wonder if the astrologers based their predictions on the opinion polls that predict there will no clear winner in this election. What do you think?
This post is part of the Global Voices special coverage on Indian Elections 2009