With blaring headlines on BJP’s historic win and Congress’s dismal performance, newspapers recently have been full of graphics, data and numbers, to explain the readers what ‘festival of democracy’ (commonly known as election) means to India – especially in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of our country. But how far has number crunching helped you?
As you try to understand the why and how of polls, News18 breaks it down for you, referring to the Civics chapter you’ve been trying hard to understand in your class. According to Chapter 4 on ‘Elections’ in the book ‘Total History & Civics-XI’, election is a procedure whereby persons are chosen, by voting, to represent the voters for running the government.
“Generally, there is a contest between different candidates for the same position. Thus, in the elections there are winners and losers. In modern societies elections are fought on party lines. Any political party or a combination of parties getting the largest number of votes, form the government,” the book taught in ICSE schools states.
Let’s Start from the Basic. Who Can Vote in India?
In India, anyone above the age of 18 can vote or exercise his/her franchise. For this, one needs to have a voter ID card that is issued by the Election Commission of India. If you haven’t yet seen a voter ID card, ask your parents to show you how it looks. It’s similar to Aadhaar card, and is a recognised document of identification. You can use it as address proof while buying a DTH connection or applying for passport or availing any other services where an ID card is mandatory.
You can apply for a voter ID card online on ‘National Voters’ Services Portal’. Once this is created, dispatched and received, you are considered an eligible voter in India.
What are Direct & Indirect Elections?
Now, there are two types of elections – direct and indirect. “People of India directly elect their representatives to the Lok Sabha and the State Legislative Assemblies,” the book states.
Indirect Elections. This Too is Coming Up in Uttar Pradesh
Describing indirect elections, it says, “India has two types of legislatures both at the Union and State level. At the State level only some States have the second house called ‘Vidhan Parishad’, the legislative council or the Upper House. At the Union level, the upper house is known as ‘Rajya Sabha’, which is a permanent house.”
Representatives at both these houses are not directly elected by the people. The book states, “Members to Legislative Council are elected by members of the Legislative Assembly from amongst persons who are not the members of the Legislative Assembly.”
At present, only six states have ‘Vidhan Parishad’ – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. The legislative council elections in UP are just round the corner. The voting will be held on April 9 and these votes will be counted on April 12.
There are 100 seats in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council. Of these, one-third of the members are elected by the MLAs. Apart from this, one-third are elected by the members of Municipal Corporation, Municipality, District Panchayat and Kshetra Panchayat. Another 1/12 members are selected by teachers and 1/12th members are selected by registered graduates.
Similarly, the Rajya Sabha has 238 members elected by the elected members of the Legislative Assembly of each state. The remaining 12 are nominated by the President from among persons having special knowledge. The UP legislators elect 31 members for Rajya Sabha.
The more number of seats a party has in state, the more power it gets to send members to Rajya Sabha. A perfect example of this is Aam Aadmi Party’s victory in Punjab. With 92 seats, the AAP can now send five members to the Rajya Sabha.
Likewise, elections to the post of President and Vice-president are also indirect. Again UP is an important state when it comes to presidential elections. The tenure of current President Ram Nath Kovind ends on 24 July this year.
An electoral college (made up of elected members of Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha, states’ and union territories’ legislative assemblies) elects the president. The vote value for each MLA varies, depending on the state’s population (based on the 1971 Census) and its number of assembly seats. UP’s MLAs carry the highest value among all the states: 208. Four MLAs from the state can nullify an MP’s vote.
There are mainly two types of direct elections in India – general elections or Lok Sabha elections and state or assembly elections. The members of state legislative assemblies are known as MLAs and members of Lok Sabha are known as MPs (or members of Parliament). Both these elections are held every five years. If, due to some circumstances, the house is dissolved before the completion of full term, the polls are called ‘mid-term elections’.
How Do You Get PMs & CMs?
The general elections give us our Prime Minister as the entire country participates in the polls, while the state elections give us our chief minister and voters of each state can exercise their franchise as and when the five-year tenure of the state government ends.
The prime minister heads India’s government, while a chief minister heads a state. The government here can differ. For example, PM Narendra Modi-led government is at the Centre, Mamata Banerjee’s TMC is the ruling party in West Bengal, Naveen Patnaik’s BJD is heading Odisha and MK Stalin’s Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is in power in Tamil Nadu.
This is one of the main reasons why you often hear PM Modi emphasising on “double engine sarkaar”. What he means here is that if both Centre and state have the same government, developmental works can be assigned with much ease, without any opposition parties raising objections or questioning the allocation of funds. There’ll be an easier understanding if the same party rules the country and the state.
Roles of Ministers at Centre & States
Of the MPs and MLAs, the ministers are selected. They are given various departments and they have to oversee development in their respective fields. Both Centre and state can have the same department. For example, the home ministry that is primarily responsible for the law and order situation.
When you read the term ‘Union home ministry’ in newspapers, remember that they are talking about a minister at Centre. At present, India’s Union home minister is Amit Shah. In states, the same position is given to a state minister. For example, in Uttar Pradesh, chief minister Yogi Adityanath had kept the home portfolio with himself before the elections held this year. Maharashtra home minister is Dilip Walse-Patil, while in Bihar CM Nitish Kumar has again kept the portfolio with himself.
Some portfolios are exclusively with the Centre. For example, civil aviation and railways, both of which are handled by the central government and is not divided on the basis of state territory.
What are ‘Party Lines’ & What are the Ideologies of Top Parties
The direct elections are held on party lines or a set of ideas that form the basis for a political system.
BJP: For example, the Bharatiya Janata Party is known as a “right-wing party” that advocates “Hindu-ness”, and its policy has historically reflected Hindu nationalist positions. On the other hand, MN Roy’s CPI and its later offshoots have become the face of “Left politics” in India. It has mainly focused on mobilising peasants and workers towards a revolutionary cause.
Congress: The Congress, meanwhile, is neither totally right nor left. It has traditionally supported socialist economic policies within the framework of a mixed economy (where free markets exist with government enterprise).
In the 1990s, it endorsed market reforms, including privatization and the deregulation of the economy. It also has supported secular policies that encourage equal rights for all citizens, including those in lower castes.
SP: The Samajwadi Party (SP) has a “secular and democratic” ideology that believes in creating a “socialist society” that works towards the upliftment of weaker sections of society.
AAP: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which emerged out of the 2011 anti-corruption movement, focuses on “ending corruption from politics”. Opposite to the right-wing, the Arvind Kejriwal-led party stands for “the preservation of India’s ancient composite culture and modern India’s staunchly secular and liberal ideals”.
How is a Government Formed?
Once, the elections are fought on these lines, you get the winners. The Election Commission of India fixes a date when political leaders can file nominations, when people can vote and when electoral officers will count these votes. For states with huge population, the elections are divided in ‘phases’. One can check when their city is set to vote, and can reach the polling booths accordingly.
In Lok Sabha, there are a total of 545 seats, of which two members are nominated from the Anglo-Indian community. A party should have at least half the number of the remaining 543 seats i.e. 272 members or more to achieve that “majority mark”. These can be attained either by a party or a coalition. For example, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 353 seats in the 2019 general elections, of which BJP alone won 303 seats and its allies were victorious on the remaining.
In state elections, a party or its alliance is considered victorious if it wins two-thirds majority. The number here differs according to the population of a state. The UP Assembly consists of 403 seats, of which 202 is considered the majority mark, and the BJP won 255 seats. There are 117 assembly seats in Punjab, of which 59 is the majority mark and AAP won 92 seats.
Bypolls or By-election
Sometimes the Election Commission cancels voting if evidence of tampering with EVM (voting machine) is found. There have been incidents when a candidate has died right before the elections or an MP is asked to fight assembly elections and vice versa. In these cases, a “bypoll” or “byelection” is held.
“When a seat held by any member of the Legislative Assembly in the Centre or State falls vacant on account of death, resignation of the member before completion of his/her term, to fill up this vacancy the election which is held called ‘By-election’. The person so elected remains the member for the unexpired term of the House,” the ICSE book reads.
This situation occurred after the recently-concluded Punjab elections. Bhagwant Mann, AAP’s chief ministerial candidate, was its lone Lok Sabha member from Sangrur. However, after winning polls from the assembly seat of Sangrur, Mann had to give up his Lok Sabha seat as he cannot be a member of both Parliament and state assembly at the state time. Thus, paving way for bypolls in Sangrur Lok Sabha seat to will the vacancy after Mann’s resignation.
Another example of bypoll is the 2021 West Bengal elections. Mamata Banerjee had fought polls from Nandigram against BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari. While her party Trinamool Congress won, she lost to Adhikari. Since her party chose her to become the CM, it was necessary for her to be victorious on an assembly seat within six months.
This led to TMC’s Shobhandeb Chattopadhyay resigning from Bhawanipur seat to allow the party chief to contest from her home turf. He, thereafter, went on to fight another bypoll in North 24 Parganas district’s Khardah, where byelection was necessitated after TMC winner Kajal Sinha’s death. Mamata won Bhawanipur with a record margin of 58,389 votes, thus helping her to retain her CM chair.
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