The browser or device you are using is out of date. It has known security flaws and a limited feature set. You will not see all the features of some websites. Please update your browser. A list of the most popular browsers can be found below.
Even before India started its long march to economic reform and started to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of its citizens, moving them into a new global middle class, India’s democracy showed something important to the world. India showed that a developing country could hold free and fair elections, have robust and lively debates among political parties of very different convictions and hand power peacefully from one party to another, again and again.
How long does it take for a country of 1.2 billion people to have elections? About six weeks. And the campaigns have been as colorful as the country itself. There are 800 million registered voters in India and hundreds of parties and candidates for parliament. 272 seats are needed to form a government.
Exit polls are unreliable in a democracy this large, but all signs point to a sweeping change for India and its economy, the third largest in Asia. If the exit polls hold (votes should be tallied by later this week), the new prime minister will likely be Narendra Modi, leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Narendra Modi, prime ministerial candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party
“I urge people to cast their vote on the last day of voting with the same enthusiasm and spirit.”
Modi is the chief minister of the state of Gujarat. He is a Hindu nationalist candidate who ran on a platform of economic renewal. Gujarat has been booming compared with the rest of the country.
The ninth and final phase of voting, involving 40 seats, wrapped up on Monday. One key battleground is the state of Uttar Pradesh and the sacred city of Varanasi, where Modi was challenged by anti-corruption candidate Arvind Keyriwal.
Good governance is just one issue that is driving the high turnout. Another is rising consumer prices. India has had record growth in the last 20 years, and income distribution programs have lifted millions out of poverty into a new middle class.
It’s these voters who are concerned now that India’s striking 5 percent annual GDP growth is slowing. Voters want the next leader to rein in inflation. Most Indians survive on $2 a day.
The BJP hopes to topple the governing Indian National Congress party. The Congress party fought to end British colonial rule, led by many of India’s founding fathers, like Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Today’s Congress party has been plagued with allegations of corruption.
Modi has been dogged by questions about his attitude toward India’s minority Muslims if he becomes prime minister. In 2002 he was chief minister of Gujarat when riots broke out, with the Hindu majority attacking the Muslim minority. As many as 2,000 Muslims were killed, with thousands more injured, according to unofficial reports.
He was accused of not doing enough to stop the violence. The U.S. revoked his visa over it. The BJP leader has denied any wrongdoing, and the country’s Supreme Court found there was not enough evidence to bring him to trial.
Watching India’s elections closely is Pakistan. Relations between the two nuclear armed nations have been long strained. There is an ongoing dispute over the Kashmir region, and Delhi has not forgotten that the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008 were carried out by a radical group based in Pakistan.
The U.S. is watching closely too. Can Barack Obama’ administration find a partner in a leader who won’t be allowed in the United States?
We view our relationship with India as one that is vitally important for economic, strategic reasons and one that we look forward to continuing to grow in the future.
State Department spokeswoman
India’s economic future may be just the issue voters are turning out for. It is about to become home to 20 percent of the world’s working population.
More Indians have cast ballots this year than in the last six U.S. elections combined.
What is the significance of these elections for India?
If Narendra Modi becomes prime minister and his economic model is implemented, how will that affect the U.S., given the two countries’ close economic ties?
Will the the stain of the 2002 Gujarat riots — in which hundreds of Muslims were killed and after which the U.S. revoked his visa — limit his effectiveness at home and abroad?
We consulted of panel of experts for the Inside Story.