How Does India Vote? A Short Reading List

This reading list attempts to identify larger patterns of how electoral democracy functions in India

As assembly elections are conducted in several states this week and with the country gearing up for the 2019 elections, we try to look at the broader patterns by which Indians have been voting in recent years. 

In the following list, we have curated articles that present a picture of how electoral democracy operates for various communities, spaces and states.

1) Is There Space for Muslims in Electoral Politics? 

How does electoral democracy operate for Muslims in India? Through the lens of the Citizenship Bill, 2016 and the Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Act, 2017, Kanika Gauba and Anshuman Singh examine how the Muslims are increasingly being pushed outside of electoral democracy by political parties who do not see the community as a meaningful vote-bank. 

“The Bharatiya Janta Party’s (BJP) success in the recent assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP) has made its campaign strategies the subject of several dissections. One of its political strategies was to refrain altogether from appealing to the Muslim electorate, which has historically been important to political fortunes in the state. Arguably, such a strategy of marginalising the community undermines the Muslim citizen’s status as a voter with a significant stake in our democracy. Indeed, the party’s thumping majority has some convinced that Muslims can no longer rely on traditional electoral politics to protect their interests.”

Extending this line of argument, Abusaleh Shariff and Khalid Saifullah have found that nearly one quarter of Muslim adults in Karnataka were out of the electoral rolls, based on electoral data from the Karnataka Chief Electoral Officer’s website and the single-person household estimates from the Centre for Research and Debates in Development Policy, New Delhi. 

“It is likely that over 15% of all adults are either left out or excluded from voting lists in India. There is a strong empirical indication, as described below, that this percentage is much higher among Muslims.”

2) Are Indian Women Participating in Electoral Democracy?

Women’s participation in electoral democracy has increased over time. A detailed study conducted by Mudit Kapoor and Shamika Ravi has found that between 1962 and 2012, the number of women who voted in assembly elections has risen steadily. 

“Our analysis reveals a sharp decline in gender bias in voting over time, across all states, including the traditionally backward states. This decline is solely driven by an increase in women participation while male turnout remains unchanged over time. This is a positive and encouraging trend in Indian politics. Particularly, as this improvement does not seem to be brought about by a deliberate top-down policy action but largely due to voluntary participation of women voters in elections, that is the reason, we term this phenomenon as one of self-empowerment.”

3) How Does Urban India Vote? 

India has often been perceived as primarily a rural democracy, with 69% of its population inhabiting rural areas. Kanchan Chandra and Alan Potter contest this claim by pointing out the empirical errors that resulted in the estimation that urban voter turnout is less than that of rural India. They also argue that when taken at face value, the data only tells us about metropolitan India, and do not take into account small towns. 

“But the sheer size of India’s population means that the absolute number of urban dwellers in India, at 410 million in 2014, is already second only to China (United Nations 2014, Annex Table A1) It also means that, even though most of its voters still live in rural areas, India has the largest pool of urban voters in the democratic world. And even this modest rate of urbanisation is shifting the balance between rural and urban voters in India, so that in just three decades, it will not be a predominantly rural democracy but one in which rural and urban voters are equally balanced.” 

4) Do Indians Vote for Criminals? 

With about a quarter of the members of the Lok Sabha facing criminal charges, a pertinent study by Bhaskar Dutta and Poonam Gupta examines India’s propensity to vote for criminals. Using data from the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, they found that voters generally do not display a willingness to vote for criminals, but the situation gets complicated when there is more than one candidate from a constituency with pending criminal charges. Additionally, they also establish a relationship between the resources available to a candidate with criminal charges and the voters’ willingness to penalise them. 

“Our main empirical results suggest that voters do punish candidates who have criminal charges against them. However, these tainted candidates are able to overcome this electoral disadvantage because they have greater wealth, and wealth plays a significant role in increasing vote shares. The most plausible channel through which wealth affects vote shares is of course through campaign expenditures, which are likely to be positively related to wealth.” 

5) How Are Indians Using NOTA? 

The “none of the above” (NOTA) option was made available to Indian voters in 2013. The hope was that the option would improve voter-turnout. However, as V R Vachana and Maya Roy’s research shows, NOTA did not contribute to a higher turnout. Though the percentage of NOTA voters is marginal, it would appear that NOTA is being used as an instrument to register a disapproval of candidates. 

“NOTA figures are comparatively higher in constituencies that have seen a direct contest between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). One may read this as an indication of the people’s disenchantment with the two mainstream political parties.”

Read More: 

  1. Haryana’s Panchayati Raj: Excluding the Deprived | Inderjit Singh, 2016
  2. Scheduled Caste Voters New Data, New Questions | Barbara R Joshi, 1981
  3. Candidate Quality in Zilla Parishads and Panchayat Samitis of Maharashtra | Rajas Parchure and Manasi Phadke, 2018
  4. The Messages, Mathematics and Silences that Formed the BJP’s UP Win | Radhika Ramaseshan, 2017
  5. Demographic Patterns of Voter Turnout: Pune Municipal Corporation Elections 2017 | Manasi Phadke and Rajas Parchure, 2018
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