Your search keywords:

Key observations from Indian elections

In a well-functioning democracy, Electoral Management Bodies play a critical role beyond simply conducting periodic polls

Key observations from Indian elections

The year 2024 is considered the largest election year ever in the world, with at least 64 countries and around 2bn people expected to participate in the electoral process. Countries like Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Mexico, the US, Russia, and Brazil hold significant national, regional, and global elections this year. 

As the world’s largest democracy, India's elections are watched carefully both globally and in Nepal. Stretched over six weeks, conducted in seven phases, and contested for 543 seats in 28 states and eight union territories, India's recent parliamentary election is over. A new government has been formed. However, the consequences, takeaways, and key concerns of the electoral process will be discussed and analyzed for weeks and months to come.

Despite its political significance, the electoral operation itself is overwhelming due to the world record numbers participating. Out of 968m eligible voters, 642m voted, of which 312m were women, marking the largest women’s participation in any election.

Elections are not only about who gets elected and who does not. Analyzing elections merely on the basis of winners and losers is not understanding elections as a multifaceted process that requires the engagement of multiple stakeholders, including but not limited to political parties, civil society actors, the diverse demography of the country, media, general voters, electoral management bodies, and security forces.

While political pundits have been analyzing the outcomes and consequences of the election results, my observations are primarily focused on elections as both a multifaceted technical process and a people-centric process.

Role of EMBs

In a well-functioning democracy, Electoral Management Bodies (EMBs) play a critical role beyond simply conducting periodic elections. They act as impartial referees, ensuring transparency throughout the process and ensuring trust among all electoral participants. EMBs are responsible for creating a level playing field for all actors involved.

While perception matters a lot, the recent Indian elections raised concerns about the Election Commission's (EC) effectiveness and credibility in these areas. The EC faced criticism for remaining silent when prominent figures from both the ruling party and the opposition opted for hate speech. Additionally, questions arose regarding the EC's monitoring of media coverage and its response to the spread of electoral misinformation and disinformation. Some independent candidates further alleged that attempts to register their candidacies in the constituencies of the Prime Minister and Home Minister were inexplicably blocked on minor administrative grounds.

Shrinking media and civic space 

Critics have increasingly expressed concern about the shrinking of civic and media space in India over the past decade. A healthy democracy thrives on a diverse, inclusive and independent media landscape, and the current climate poses a significant threat. India’s ranking of 159th out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index paints a concerning picture.

The understood pressure to act as government mouthpieces has pushed many mainstream private television channels toward self-censorship. This, in turn, has pushed some prominent journalists to start their own independent YouTube channels, where they can potentially reach wider audiences than through the now-constrained mainstream media.

Furthermore, while the government spends millions on public awareness campaigns, these funds are often directed toward media outlets that toe the official line. This leaves many independent journalists reliant on YouTube monetization for their livelihood, creating a system where financial sustainability is contingent on editorial decisions.

National vs local

Despite efforts to set the national narratives, the Indian elections highlighted the continued importance and relevance of local and regional concerns for voters in the federal republic. While religion is becoming a significant factor in Indian politics, caste continues to exert a powerful influence. Notably, Dalits, the historically marginalized community at the bottom of the social hierarchy, appear to have made their voices heard this election cycle. Some new faces in the parliament are from Dalit community, including some young women leaders. 

Social media and AI 

When it comes to the use of social media, many election pundits say that the 2014 Indian election was a “Facebook election”, 2019 became the “WhatsApp election”, and 2024 is shaping up to be the “YouTube and short video/reel election.” This also shows how the use of social media is evolving in recent years. 

Independent YouTubers played a crucial role in educating voters through evidence-based criticisms and awareness. Furthermore, political parties and media used Artificial Intelligence (AI) for campaigns, including deep fake videos by both ruling and opposition parties. Videos of many celebrities, including Aamir Khan, were circulated on social media appealing to voters to support certain political parties. However, the role of social media companies came under scrutiny. The Guardian published a report on how the owner of X (previously Twitter), Elon Musk, was allegedly favoring the ruling party BJP, which in return advocated to lower the tax on Tesla cars in India. The YouTube India team came under fire for manipulating the algorithm to favor the ruling party. Although Meta announced a new campaign against electoral misinformation during Indian elections, such companies must implement strict policies to ensure their platforms do not become spaces for misinformation, disinformation, and hate speech.

Exit poll 

This time, except for some political analysts like Yogendra Yadav and some regional media channels, the mainstream media and exit polls miserably failed to understand the mood of the common people. There has been a strong voice claiming that the exit poll was designed to favor stock investors affiliated with the ruling coalition. The Delhi Chief Minister, before going to jail again on alleged corruption charges, publicly challenged those poll workers for manipulating the stock market. Political strategists like Prashant Kishore had to publicly acknowledge the mistakes of existing pollsters and further announced that he would never dare to do that again. 

Demography and the farmers 

India, with the largest population in the world and a median age of 28 years, saw significant participation from young voters, especially first-time voters. Over 19m youth voted for the first time, with primary concerns being education and employment. Women voters also had a huge influence, with 312m women voting, making them one of the key influential electoral stakeholders. The farmers’ movement in India also impacted the election outcome. An estimated 700 farmers died during protests, and while street protests may not have been reported in mainstream media, their voices were heard loudly in these elections.

Role of state institutions 

Permanent state institutions are ideally expected to operate independently, professionally and responsibly. However, the roles of intelligence, the CBI, and the Enforcement Directorate have been questioned. Political leaders who were investigated were forced to join the ruling coalition, and charges were dropped after they joined the BJP. Many opposition leaders were jailed or are still being investigated. The bank accounts of the largest opposition party were frozen. While the Supreme Court is still looked upon with hope, its role in some cases is considered biased. In West Bengal, a high court judge immediately joined the BJP after leaving the court, raising concerns about the judiciary's independence.

In light of these observations, it would be worth watching the upcoming elections in other larger democracies and also in Nepal, where some of the parties are already mentioning the next elections.


The author works in an international organization as an electoral advisor. Opinions expressed are his own and do not represent the views of his association