Home Political History of India All you need to know about the General Elections through the years: 1957-2014

All you need to know about the General Elections through the years: 1957-2014

We take you down the memory lane to show you how the politics in India has evolved.

On the 10th of March, the Election Commission declared the dates for the 2019 General Elections. The Elections are to be held in 7 phases, like the previous elections, and results will be declared on the 23rd of May.
It is a good time perhaps to look back towards some of the earlier General Elections that have been contested in the country. General Elections have always been a raucous affair and all of them had their own flavour of chaos and enigma, highs and lows.

1. The Second General Elections (1957)

5 years after Jawaharlal Nehru became the first democratically elected Prime Minister of independent India, the country went to polls for the second time. In recent times, it has become the norm that votes are counted only after all phases of the elections are completed. However, in 1957, as in the earlier General Elections, the votes were counted in every constituency as soon as it was possible. Normally, it was done straightaway after the ballots were cast or once all the ballots in the particular state had been cast.

The Congress party was the comprehensive winner, winning 371 seats and a vote-share of 47.8% which was five times more than its closest competitor. Nehru again became the Prime Minister of India. Moreover, in this election, the independent candidates won a whopping 42 seats and over 19% of the votes, the highest for any General Election.

The elections were held from the 24th February to the 9th June, taking a much longer time to complete than current elections. Also, it was the last election which had the provisions for multi-seat constituencies. Of the 403 constituencies, 91 elected two members while the remaining elected one each. The provision for multi-seats for constituencies was abolished before the next elections. In the second General elections, the seats in the Lower House of the Parliament were increased by 5 from the first time around to 494.

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1957 General Elections

2. The Fourth General Elections (1967)

The 1967 General Elections saw a further increase in the number of Parliamentary constituencies. From 494, the number went up to 520 in 1967. Like the third General Elections (1962), which was completed between 19-25 February, this one covered an extremely short period of time as well. The 1967 General Elections were completed between the 17th of February and 21.

Also, this was the first General Elections that were conducted after the Delimitation Commission Act of 1962 was enacted by Parliament. It was in this Act that it was mandated that every Assembly Constituency should fall wholly within one Parliamentary Constituency or “each parliamentary constituency should comprise an integral number of assembly constituencies.” It was also this Act that mandated that seats for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes be located in different parts of the state, and “as far as practicable”, in areas where their population compared to the total was largest.

Although the Congress party won over 40% of the votes, it suffered a loss of about 4% in terms of its vote-share from its previous elections. The loss in vote-share translated to a loss in seats as well. While it had won 361/494 seats in the previous elections, it was reduced to 283 in 1967. Moreover, the Swatantra Party, which had formed as a consequence of an anti-Congress sentiment and was in certain ways a predecessor of the BJP, increased its seats tally to 44. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, on the other hand, won 35.

The 1967 was the first General Elections which the Congress fought under the leadership of Indira Gandhi. Many things are blamed for the losses it suffered, including the two wars which India fought in the previous 5 years contributed to an economic slowdown. Moreover, the Congress’ brightest leaders, Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri had both passed away which led to a leadership crisis at the highest echelons of the party. A rivalry had developed between Indira and Morarji Desai which further contributed to her loss.

1967 General Elections

3. The Fifth General Elections (1971)

The 1971 Lok Sabha Elections was unique in its own ways. The Congress party has suffered a split as a consequence of the infighting between Indira Gandhi and Morarji Desai. In 1969, Indira was expelled from the party and she responded with a rebellion against the party establishment that resulted in a split. Most of the Congress leaders and grassroots worker joined their ranks with Indira and as a consequence, the Election Commission recognized Indira’s INC(R) as the lawful successor to the erstwhile Congress party. Thus, technically speaking, the Congress party of today is not the Congress party of Independence. The same dynasty may continue to hold power over the party but the nature of it has changed remarkably. It has undergone too many splits and divisions to really be comparable to the party of old.

The elections were called prematurely after the President dissolved the Lok Sabha 15 months ahead of schedule on the advice of the Prime Minister. In 1971, the Monarchial psyche of the Indian populace was again emphasized. Although the Congress had suffered a split, the charismatic leadership of Indira propelled the party from 283 in 1967 to 352. The Congress party had also managed to increase its vote-share by almost 3 percentage points. The number of seats in the Lok Sabha, too, was increased to 545 in 1971, a number that has held stable since then.

The dissident faction of the Congress, INC(O), suffered a thorough beating at the hands of Indira Gandhi. The INC(O) formed a ‘Mahagathbandhan’ of sorts with Samyukta Socialist Party (SSP), Praja Socialist Party (PSP), Swatantra party and Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS) to defeat INC(R) but the coalition received a thrashing as sound as any.

The 1971 Elections also sowed the seeds for one of the darkest periods of Indian Democracy. On the 12th of June, 1975, the Allahabad High Court invalidated the results of Gandhi’s constituency citing electoral malpractices. Instead of resigning, Gandhi called an emergency that lasted two years. The decision to enforce the Emergency and the atrocities that followed could be construed as one of the nails in the coffin of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty but the seeds of it were laid in the 1971 General Elections. It was for this election that Indira Gandhi coined her famous ‘Garibi Hatao’ slogan, words that are echoed by her Grandson Rahul Gandhi to this day.

1971 General Elections

4. The Sixth General Elections (1977)

The 1977 Lok Sabha Elections were historic in many aspects. It was the first time in the history of Independent India that Congress was voted out of power. Morarji Desai became India’s first non-Congress Prime Minister after the Janata Party stormed into power winning 298 of the 545 seats.

Consistent with the short duration of previous elections, the General Elections in 1977 were completed within 4 days from the 16th of March to the 19th. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi called off the Emergency on the 21st and on 24th, Morarji Desai became the Prime Minister of the country.

Indira Gandhi paid for her dictatorial tendencies and the numerous atrocities she inflicted on the country’s population. ‘Nasbandi’ (Sterilization through vasectomy) was one of the many grievances that people had, regressive tendencies of her policies were not lost on anyone and the Opposition was able to seize the initiative effectively. The rampant corruption played a major part as well. Infighting within the party and a lack of enthusiasm amidst the ranks so to speak played its part as well.

The 1977 Elections also witnessed the utter decimation of the Swatantra Party and the Jana Sangh. Intriguingly enough, the Communist parties of India found themselves in opposite camps. While the CPI(M) sided with the Janata Party, the CPI went with Indira Gandhi.

1977 General Elections

5. The Seventh General Elections (1980)

While it is true that the Congress party suffered a terrible blow in the 1977 Lok Sabha Elections, an ecosystem that has entrenched itself so deeply in the fabric of the country cannot be struck down in one blow. The nature of the political entity that achieved such a feat has to be borne in mind as well. The Janata Alliance was, in its true sense, a motley crew of strong leaders and unfortunate as it may be, great conquerors are not guaranteed to be great leaders. And thus it happened, due to internal rivalry and the inherent unstable nature of the coalition, the Janata Party collapsed before long and the country was again faced with the prospect of General Elections.

Indira Gandhi was again confronted with a plethora of leaders aligned against her but as it happened, the lack of unity among her Opposition strengthened her position considerably. And thus, in 1980, Indira Gandhi secured a thumping majority in the Elections, not as great as the Congress party of yore but a great majority nonetheless. She won 353 seats and returned to rule as Prime Minister again. The Janata Party was reduced to 31 seats and the split faction, Janata Party (Secular) won 41 seats.

In the years that followed, the Janata Party continued to split and ultimately lost all influence in national politics. But they had changed the nature of Indian politics fundamentally. While at the national level, there wasn’t any party left to challenge the Congress, various regional satraps had developed which would significantly undermine the Congress in the years to come.

The Shiromani Akali Dal, the regional parties in the Southern States, the Shiv Sena, the National Conference in Jammu & Kashmir, all of these parties had established themselves in Indian polity during this period and in the years to come, they would significantly reduce Congress’ influence in national politics.

1980 General Elections

6. The Eighth General Elections (1984)

The assassination of Indira Gandhi precipitated the need for General Elections in 1984. After his grandfather and mother, now it was Rajiv Gandhi’s turn to assume the leadership of the Congress party. Riding on the sympathy wave created by the death of his mother, Rajiv Gandhi secured one of Congress party’s largest majorities in the Lok Sabha. The Congress party won 426 seats in the absence of any significant opposing national party.

The Congress party had thus, rolled back the years and regained every seat they had lost and then gained some more. Although the 426 seats are extremely flattering, Congress’s decline was almost fated to be as regional satraps continued to rise.

The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) won 30 seats, the CPI(M) and CPI won 23 and 6 respectively, the Akali Dal won 7, the AIADMK won 12 and the Asom Gana Parishad won 7 among others. As much as it was a story of Congress of dominance, it was also a story of the continued rise of regional satraps. The Janata Party had won a paltry 16 seats and was now in a state of terminal decline.

Most significantly, however, 1984 marked the entry of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Indian polity. They managed to win a modest 2 seats. However, in the years to come, the party would go on to redefine politics in the country and in many ways, the meaning of India as a country.

1984 General Elections

7. The 10th General Elections (1991)

The 1991 Lok Sabha Elections were one of the most polarized elections in the history of the country, so much so that it came to be referred to as the ‘Mandal-Mandir’ elections. Hindu nationalist organizations had started flexing their muscles on the Ram Mandir front in the 1980s. In 1986, the movement received a major boost as the gates of the ‘disputed site’ were opened to Hindu through a Court order.

Naturally, religiousity made its presence felt in national politics as well. And in 1989, the BJP secured 89 seats in the Lok Sabha Elections. Shri Rama became the focal point for Hindu politics and BJP, which was borne of the womb of Hindutva, increased its tally by 87 seats in the span of 5 years. Ultimately, V.P. Singh formed the second non-Congress government at the Centre with the help of the BJP and Left parties. But as it happened, the government again collapsed soon after.

The Mandir gambit of the BJP, which led to an unprecedented consolidation of Hindu votes, was countered by the Mandal Commission. The Commission, which recommended 27% reservations to OBCs, fractured the Hindu consolidation that the Hindutva organizations were trying to achieve.

Ultimately, the Congress won 244 seats in the 1991 Lok Sabha elections although the BJP managed to increase its tally to 120. The Congress party formed a government with an alliance with the Left parties.

1991 also marked the death of Rajiv Gandhi when he was assassinated while campaigning for his party. With the absence of eligible successors, one of the architects of modern India, P.V. Narasimha Rao took the reigns of the party and became the first non-Gandhi person to complete his tenure as Prime Minister of the country.

The 10th Lok Sabha Elections were significant in the sense that it further marginalized the hold of the Nehru-Gandhi Parivar in Indian politics. The last time the Nehru-Gandhi Parivar had been removed from the corridors of power in 1977, they had returned soon enough. But now, there was an absence of eligible successors and Rajiv Gandhi’s children were still too young and had no experience in politics. Therefore, it would take some time before the Parivar could regain their power.

1991 General Elections

8. The 13th General Elections (1999)

The 1999 Lok Sabha Elections were probably the most historic in Independent India. For the first time ever, a non-Gandhi non-Congress politician succeeded in completing his tenure as the Prime Minister of the Country. It did not come easy for Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Earlier, he had lost a no-confidence motion in the floor of the Parliament when he became the Prime Minister for the first time.

The period between 1996-1999 was chaotic for Indian Polity. 3 General Elections were held in 4 years. And 1998 marked the first time in Indian history when the Congress party failed to emerge as the single largest party for two consecutive elections. The chaos was natural as it signified a tectonic shift in Indian politics.

The mantle of the single largest party had been passed to the Bharatiya Janata Party from the Congress, regional satraps with significant political power had proliferated and the age of a single party dominance had ended, the era of Coalition Politics was upon us.

The BJP won 180 seats in 1999, it’s highest ever tally thus far. The Congress was reduced to 114. Regional satraps such as the Samajwadi Party, Shiv Sena, the BSP and the Southern parties won a significant share of seats as well. Thus, what began with the Janata Party in 1977 had ended with the decimation of single-party dominance at the Centre. While the Congress party continued to remain a significant player, it’s dominance had been crushed.

1999 General Elections

9. The 14th General Elections (2004)

Again, the General Elections of 2004 were extremely significant in their own ways. It was the first time that EVMs were used in all the constituencies. Ballot boxes had become a thing of the past.

More than that, 2004 marked the return of the Gandhi Parivar in the corridors of power. While Sonia Gandhi could not seize power overtly as her predecessors had, it is known that she continued to pull the strings from behind while installing Manmohan Singh as the puppet Prime Minister.

It was extremely significant as well as it marked the first time in Indian history that alliances were formed along ideological lines. Although the Congress won 145 seats and the BJP won 138, the BJP was destined to lose as its allies hadn’t secured the requisite number of seats necessary and among the parties that had remained neutral, the appeal of an alliance with a ‘Hindutva’ Party was non-existent. Thus, ‘India Shining’ had failed and the Congress party returned to power with support from its allies.

2004 General Elections

10. The 16th General Elections (2014)

814 million people were eligible to vote in the General Elections of 2014, a whopping 100 million more than the previous General Elections. It was even touted to be the biggest election in world history. It was for the time in Indian elections that NOTA was recognized as a legitimate option. In stark contrast to the times when the General Elections were concluded within 4 days, the 2014 General Elections were conducted in 9 phases from the 7th of April to the 12th of May.

The 2014 General Elections perhaps was the most historic of them all. The Congress party secured its lowest ever tally in General Elections, winning only 44 seats in the Lower House of the Parliament. It was the first time since Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress in 1984 that a party had secured a simple majority on its own in the Parliament.

More than that, the era of Coalition Politics that began in 1989 had suffered a serious setback as Narendra Modi and his traditional allies secured a thumping majority. For the Nehru-Gandhi Parivar, it was the final nail in the coffin. The current head of the Dynasty has proven to be an utterly incompetent politician. Even if Narendra Modi somehow loses the 2019 elections, the Congress party will in no manner and shape to continue to enjoy power as it did during 2004-14, let alone in the days of Rajiv and Indira.

The first parties to attempt to wrest away power from the Congress were the Jana Sangh and the Swatantra Party. They failed. The Janata Party succeeded in 1977 but could not complete the tenure of their government. After much duress, Atal Bihari Vajpayee succeeded in completing his tenure as Prime Minister becoming the first non-Congress politician to do so. But he could not succeed in getting reelected. if Narendra Modi is reelected as Prime Minister for a second term, he could become the first non-Congress politician to complete two consecutive tenures as Prime Minister.

2014 General Elections

11. The 17th General Elections (2019)

The 2019 Lok Sabha Elections has great significance for the future of the country. It’s importance has been exalted by politicians all across the spectrum. While BJP President Amit Shah has likened it to the Third Battle of Panipat, the Opposition calls it the battle for the soul of India.

In political terms, 2014 was the first time in over two decades that a single party won a majority in the Lower House of the Parliament. A repeat this time around could very well mean the death of coalition politics in India and a return to the times when a single party enjoyed an overwhelming majority in the Lok Sabha.

Narendra Modi is bidding to become the first non-Congress non-Gandhi Prime Minister to complete to successive terms as Prime Minister. While his first term shifted the Overton Window of Indian Politics firmly towards Hindutva, another term would consolidate the shift and cement Hindutva as the new normal of the Indian political scene.

There are other unique features as well. The 2019 elections is poised to surpass the previous General Elections to record the highest voter turnout ever in Lok Sabha Elections. It indicates that the principles of Democracy have entrenched itself in the psyche of the Indian populace.

For the first time, inflation and corruption isn’t an issue in elections. It is being fought on ideology, on the vision for the future, on the basis of personalities and development. Regardless of the result, the implications of this year’s elections will be felt for years and years to come.

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