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Three lessons about the state of Indian politics from spring election season

Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa (left) and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (right) both have reason to smile at India's spring election season. (Facebook)
Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa (left) and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi (right) both have reason to smile at India’s spring election season. (Facebook)

For the better part of a week, exit polls showed that Tamil Nadu’s chief minister Jayalalithaa, both beloved and scandal-plagued, was in trouble of being rejected by voters. India Flag Icon

But when election officials announced the results Thursday for the May 16 state elections, her governing AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) instead won a resounding victory. It proved the staying power of one of India’s most enchanting regional leaders, despite her temporary, nine-month suspension as chief minister that followed a 2014 a conviction on corruption charges, and despite disastrous flooding late in 2015 that affected the Tamil capital of Chennai and that killed over 400 people throughout the state.

None of those problems seemed to matter to Tamil voters, who returned the AIADMK to power, five years after Jayalalithaa returned to power at the state level and two years after she nearly routed both regional and national parties in India’s parliamentary elections.

Despite the pollsters’ last-minute spook in Tamil Nadu, none of the results announced Thursday in spring elections across five states offered much of a surprise. But the voting, across five states, from India’s northern border with China down to its most southern tip, which incorporated, in aggregate, a population of over 225 million Indians, was as close to a ‘midterm’ vote as prime minister Narendra Modi will get.

Regional parties are stronger than ever

Mamata Banerjee won a second term as chief minister of West Bengal, despite her failure to stem corruption. (Facebook)
Mamata Banerjee won a second term as chief minister of West Bengal, despite her failure to stem corruption. (Facebook)

In the spring’s two biggest prizes — West Bengal and Tamil Nadu — voters delivered resounding victories to regional leaders like Jayalalithaa and West Bengal’s chief minister Mamata Banerjee.

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RELATED: Banerjee eyes reelection in West Bengal state election results

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The resilience of regional parties, often more tied to personality or class patronage than to a set of policies or rigid ideology, shouldn’t have been a surprise. Following the spring voting, 15 Indian states are now governed by chief ministers from regional or left-wing third parties. Last year, Modi’s governing Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) suffered humiliating setbacks both in Delhi and in Bihar, the former to clean-government guru Arvind Kejriwal in the latter to a regional party alliance headed by chief minister Nitish Kumar, one of a handful of politicians in the country with a better record on economic growth and development than Modi himself. Continue reading Three lessons about the state of Indian politics from spring election season

A state-by-state overview of India’s election results


It quickly became clear early on Friday morning across India that Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) were headed for a historical victory in India’s national elections, which took place across nine separate phases between April 7 and May 12. India Flag Icon

But to really understand the impact of the victory, it’s important to delve into the results on a state-by-state level. Where did the BJP massively exceed expectations? Where did it fall short? Where did regional leaders keep the ‘Modi wave’ at bay? Where did regional leaders fail? Each state tells us something about the future shape of India’s new political reality in New Delhi and about the future of state governance, which, after all, represents the most important level of government for most Indians, even in the Modi era.

For the record, here are the final results:


The BJP, together with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) won 336 seats in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), the House of the People, the lower house of India’s parliament. It’s the largest mandate that any Indian party/coalition has won since 1984.

The ruling Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) and its allies in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won just 58 seats. Not only did the Congress suffer the worst defeat of its history under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, the great-grandson of India’s first post-independence prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, it’s the first time that a non-Congress party has won an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha.

Regional parties and other third groups won an additional 149 seats. Continue reading A state-by-state overview of India’s election results

India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 3


The first two phases of India’s national parliamentary elections seemed less like an appetizer than an amuse bouche.India Flag Icon

But after a slow start that saw voting in just 13 constituencies confined to seven relatively isolated states in India’s far northeast, the third phases gets underway today with a blast.

Unlike the first two rounds, the April 10 phase, which will determine 91 out of 543 constituencies in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), will have a real impact in deciding India’s next government.

Before going any further, here’s a map of India’s states for reference:



Theoretically, today’s largest prize is the southern state of Kerala (pictured above), where all 20 constituencies will hold elections today in the tropical southwestern state of 33.4 million.

But, by and large, it’s a race between the center-left and the far left. Continue reading India Lok Sabha elections: Phase 3