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India's Electoral Politics

Introduction

Elections in India, the world's second-most populous country, evoke descriptions like 'spectacle' or 'carnival,' in part due to the overwhelming numbers that participate in the process. In this country of over a billion people, 714 million voters will decide who rules the world's largest democracy for the next five years. In the 2004 elections, over 5,400 candidates from 230 political parties participated. Nearly the same number of candidates will competefor seats in parliament in 2009. Electoral candidates vie for votes by promising reforms, such as better governance, greater socioeconomic equity, and bolstered efforts at poverty alleviation. However, corrupt politicians with criminal records, caste- and religion-based politics, and allegations of vote-buying continue to marthe democratic process. Meanwhile, the coalition politics of the last two decades, while more inclusive, have resulted in giving outsized power to small parties that have used it to further their short-term agendas.

Indian historian Ramachandra Guha, in the book India after Gandhi, argues the country is only "50 percent a democracy," holding viable elections, but falling short when it comes to "the functioning of politicians and political institutions."

The Parliament

India's parliamentary system is based on the Westminster model of constitutional democracy, a legacy of British colonial rule. The Parliament is comprised of a bicameral legislature: the Rajya Sabha, the 250-member upper house, where members are elected by state legislative assemblies (12 members are nominated by the president), and the Lok Sabha, the 543-member lower house directly elected by the people(with two additional seats reserved for Anglo Indians nominated by the president). In the Lok Sabha,voters elect candidatesbased on the electoral system where the person securing the largest number of votes in each district wins.

"There were few other competing ideologies that allowed people to make sense of their...

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