The epic battle to govern the world’s largest democracy—starring more than 900 million eligible voters, about 8,000 candidates, 543 constituency seats and an estimated cost of over Rs 500 billion—is all set to take over our TV screens and Twitter feeds from April 11 to May 23. And since the Indian electoral process is more complex than a Game of Thrones episode, here’s a handy guide you need on the elections, especially if you’re the Jon Snow of this universe and literally know nothing:
Why should I care?
Against the background of alarming unemployment rate, falling GDP, terrifying agrarian crisis and a questionable socio-cultural environment, current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, from the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is fighting to win a second term against the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress (INC), led by dynastic heir Rahul Gandhi (who, FYI, bears no resemblance or relation to Mahatma Gandhi). In the 2014 elections, the BJP won a landslide majority of over 272 seats—the number required to form the government—but tensions are especially high this time. There are over 15 million eligible first-time voters, but the actual voting participation continues to lay low. So before you worry about whether the Avengers will defeat Thanos this summer, you may want to start feeling unsettled of what this election’s outcome could really mean for India.
What am I voting for?
Given that India is a nation riddled with incredible diversity, it follows the Parliamentary System, which includes the Lok Sabha (Lower House), Rajya Sabha (Upper House) and the Vidhan Sabha (State Legislative Assemblies). During elections, citizens vote for their favoured Member of Parliament from across 543 constituencies, the areas divided on the basis of population (with the exception of two Anglo-Indian candidates who are nominated by the President). Whichever party wins the majority of seats is empowered to put forth a Prime Ministerial candidate of their choosing. The whole process is routed through the Election Commission (EC). Various parties can also form allies with other parties in different states and form a coalition government, if no single party gets a majority stake.
How do I register to vote?
If you’re 18 years old as of January 1, 2019, not only are you allowed to legally drive a real car but also hop on to The Big Fat Indian Elections bandwagon. This can be done by filling an online application for Form 6, based on the constituency you will be voting in. This becomes your access card to being a part of the election process. And while it may not be the hottest club to gain entry to (the heat mainly being found only at crowded rallies), you still need to show some ID, which is issued after you upload a passport-sized photograph and giving proof of your address and identity. And if you’re worried your name will be lost in translation, you can track the status of your application to make sure your name shows up in the Electoral Roll of your constituency.
What if I fuck up my application or lose my Voter ID?
You’re screwed and your soul will be served to the lions. JK. If you’ve spelt your name wrong or put the wrong age or fucked up some part of the application process because you were too busy listening to Hasan Minhaj in the background, you have to fill in Form 8 and notify the Electoral Officer about the changes to be made.
And don’t lose hope even if you do lose your Voter ID. The Election Commission issues a Photo Voter slip that you can use to vote once your name is registered in the Electoral Roll.
What will I find at a polling station?
When D-day arrives, you need to make your way to the nearest polling station, where you must first be identified and accepted by the First Polling Officer, who ushers you into the station with 2-3 other unsuspecting folks. After this, the Second Polling Officer skips all the niceties, issues you a voter’s slip and leaves a lasting impression on you in the form of an indelible black line on your left forefinger that makes sure you don’t come back for seconds. Then, the Third Polling Officer takes your slip and presses the ‘Ballot’ button of the control unit of the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). THEN you are banished to a voters’ booth to ensure total secrecy when you select the symbol that represents who you wish to vote for. It’s a bit like going to the dentist: the process is tedious and tiresome, but you need to do it to ensure it doesn't come back to bite you in your ass.
Can I Instagram myself voting?
When losing your voting virginity, think intimate instead of Instagram. While we’re used to showing off every damn thing we do on social media, the EC has strict rules against the use of mobile phones and taking pictures in the polling stations. You can carry your phone, but just pretend that Instagram is down again and keep it switched off.
Who am I voting for?
While the battle for the throne is mainly between PM Modi-led BJP and the Gandhi-led Congress, there are ally parties that play key roles. Both parties are the largest members in the umbrella alliances known as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), which comprise the centre-right and centre-left parties, respectively. But since the seats depend on the constituency size, parties such as the National Congress Party (NCP), led by Sharad Pawar in Maharashtra, which accounts for 28 seats, become key coalition candidates.
The game becomes even more interesting given the power of minority-support parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), led by Mayawati Prabhu Das, and the Samajwadi Party (SP) led by Akhilesh Yadav, who announced a coalition for 76 out of 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh—India’s largest constituency that pretty much decides which way things swing. Meanwhile, the Communist Party of India (CPI) wields influence in the south and the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) led by Mamata Banerjee controls the east. We also have alternative players like the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) led by Arvind Kejriwal, who became the Chief Minister of India’s capital in 2015, and is a study in alternative politics in India.
Given India’s variety of language, ethnicity, caste and class, each of these parties has their share of fans, so it’s important to stay sharper than the sword when it comes to selecting these.
What if I don’t like any of the candidates?
Just because you aren’t vibing with any of the contesting candidates doesn’t mean you should ghost the election altogether. NOTA (None Of The Above) is the EC’s equivalent of a no-strings-attached relationship, which gives you the option of saying you have no faith in any of the candidates. But before casting a blank vote, do your research on the candidate contesting in your constituency. Their financial, educational and criminal records can be found online, and serve as an indicator for the kind of person you want as a leader.
What are the candidates like?
We all have that one friend who promises that they will get us free entry to the event we’re dying to attend, only to leave us standing alone at the door with nothing but our FOMO. At the moment, Modi is that friend. Infamous for making claims bigger than his frame, the Modi government has reportedly over-promised on things like improving urban centres, providing low-income housing, and better access to healthcare, education and even the internet. Even his demonetisation policy, which banned Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes to weed out black money, backfired at a great cost. Needless to say, his promises are more overdue than Vijay Mallya’s payments, and the people’s expectation now lie on the party’s promise of a crowdsourced manifesto.
Gandhi, on the other hand, has promised 100 days of guaranteed urban employment, an improved minimum support price for farmers and a loan waiver of up to Rs 8 lakh ahead of elections. But let’s not forget the spectrum of scams the party leaders have pulled off in the past. Suffice to say that when it comes to Indian politics, there’s no such thing as a clean slate. Add to that the mounting number of alleged criminal charges against the contesting candidates. From Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Aditynanath’s murder and extortion charges to BJP President Amit Shah’s abduction and illegal surveillance charges, there’s a dark cloud of distrust that looms over many contesting candidates. In spite of that, the Supreme Court has declared that it could not disqualify candidates with chargesheets against them.
How are the votes counted?
Since there’s a possibility of shady shit that can go down with voting information, it’s important to understand how the counting process works. This process, which will be done and declared on May 23, is conducted by the Residing Officer (RO), who, along with election agents, counting agents, public servants on duty as well as authorised Election Commission agents, is allowed to hang around. Since the machines have been electronic in nature for a while now, the votes are inspected and resealed after each round of counting.
OK, I think I get it, but how does my vote even like matter?
Not you, please. You can't be that immature whiner who says that their one vote won't make any difference. Sure, YOUR one vote is not going to swing the results. But if this is the public sentiment, it all stacks up, resulting in a candidate who might not deserve to win. But also (and the following might be an unpopular opinion), voting when you have zero idea about your candidate might be worse than not voting at all. Sometimes, just by making sure you know what the fuck is up in our country and taking a calculated decision about who the lesser evil is, you’re doing your bit to clean it up.
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