Elections bring forth new leadership in democracies to continue the development. Voters hold the power to produce such leadership through votes. The context of voter behaviour is influenced by political polarization, ones institutional attachments, social stratum and popular media. Thus, opportunities for voters to make informed political choices are at crisis. What makes Indian voter decide the future of the country? What do they expect to be heard in deciding on their votes? Are the contestants and political parties being able to translate the development agenda to the votes? Or has it being mislead in the midst of struggle for legitimacy in political power? In reality, the absence of critical thinking and rationalisation have normalised majority of the population to build on blind faith in their dominant institutional values. The writing aims to analyse the context and influencers surrounding voters and the obstacles for development agenda of India to be translated to votes in 2019 Elections.
Translating Development Agenda into Votes
by Meenuka Mathew & Viji Rajesh
Development of a country depends on the vision of any government that is in the power. Governments are brought to power by the votes. The electorate therefore hold power to direct the development and decide who can do it. Elections and change in governments echoes development and promises solutions to all problems as usual.
As India has begun its Election 2019, over 900 million of Indians, including 150 million new age voters will be heading to the polls to elect their next parliament (Business Insider, 2019). India is a young country with median age of 27.9 years in 2018 ( World Population Review, 2018). India’s young population votes will visibly be the conclusive factors for the general election 2019.
What do the median voters want to hear from the candidate? Are the electorate decision influenced with macro agendas of development or by the day to day struggle of an average Indian? What development policy means today? Or Are the voters able to look beyond caste, religion and class in making their decision on whom to send to the parliament? These are some of the questions that would encourage critical thinking and dialogue for the electorate as well as the policy makers at this stage.
What does India’s development agenda mean today when India is home to 18% of the world population; yet, we share only 2% of the global trade and rank 77 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business (PIB, 2018).
India is in the race to maintain its international standard of being a top in the fastest growing economies list but with 44 million people unemployed. Ironically, the unemployment rate is no where reducing as it had reached 6.1% in 2018 from the record low of 3.41% in 2014 (Business Today, 2019). Does it mean that project like Make-in-India which was estimated to create jobs for 1.2 million youth has failed to cater the demand? Furthermore, Skill India which aims to provide the market relevant skill training to people for securing better livelihood, yet the Indian employers unable to find people with the right skills.
According to the National Crime Records bureau, 2016, around 3,50,000 crime incidences happened against women in 2016. Most of the women in India do not feel safe alone on streets, at work or even at home. The number of incidents and cases on religious-based hate-crime are in rapid increase, data confirms that these incidents rose to 28% in 2014-17 fragiling the Indian democratic values and uncertainty in the Indian justice systems (NCRB, 2016).
The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 2018 ranks India 78th position as one of the most corrupt country in the world (Transparency International, 2018). The demonetisation and the GST which aims to curb the corruption and bring out the transparency and accountability in the country being popularly known for the governments answer to corruption. However, does these policies able to treat the root cause of the problem? Did it bring forth the benefits which the policy was liable for?
The facts appeared to be challenging the current development agenda of India and demands solutions to some current issues in the country. Are these solutions logically reflected in the visions of major political parties’ or in their manifestos?
Determinant of Voter Behaviour
James G. March and Johan P. Olsen in their book Rediscovering Institutions: The Organizational Basis of Politics argued that "Individual behaviours will be motivated by the values of their institutions. That is, individuals will make conscious choices but those choices will remain within the parameters established by the dominant institutional values." So every individual has to interpret what their dominant institutional values are. The perspective of individual gets influenced by these values and thus set limits to his/her decisions or successively form them (March & Olsen, 1989).
Similarly, the Indian voters are motivated by the institutions or community that their connected. Popularly, they differ according to caste, religion, class, ideology etc.
Caste: Even though legally caste system has long gone but socially it continues to influence people, their political ideology and decision making. These influences even reflect in political party manifestos. According to the study conducted in 2018, by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in 22 assembly constituencies with 16,680 respondents, it had been revealed that the bulk of Indian voters favour political leaders from their own caste, tribe or religion. Across eight states, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Telangana–55% of Indians would prefer a political leader from their own caste and religion (Business Standard, 2018).
Religion: Constitutionally, India being known for secularism, treating each religion equally. Political parties make it a point to mention and make use of religious sentiments to reach voters, particularly in their manifestos and popular promises. The Indian National Congress targets against the religious polarization that is happening in India. In its manifesto they have suggested to pass the Anti-Discrimination Law that will prohibit discrimination against religion, caste, gender or language. (Indian National Congress, 2019). In the sametime, Bharatiya Janata Party in their manifesto has promised to restore the Indian culture by the means of building the controversial Ram Mandir and the entry of women in Sabrimala temple in Kerala (Bhartiya Janata Party, 2019).
Economy: India has large section of people living below poverty line. Access to resources or opportunities becomes thus a very important determinant of Indian elections. Voters’ behaviour in respond to certain economical promises depends largely on the socioeconomic status of the voter. Giving financial aid to the poor and tax relaxation to the middle class people are some of the tactics used by the parties to economically influence the voters. Yet, there is uncertainty in if voters particularly in the rural India, which is the base for nearly 70% of the Indian population, that the economic aspects really decided their choice of leadership. There has not been any significant increase in the economic situation of the rural India as the country continues to develop with the share of wealth the top 1% holds growing steadily, eclipsing the share of wealth of the bottom half.
Social Media: The role and the use of social media in 2019 elections has been a driving force of influence for voters. It is been prominently used by the political leaders to reach their message to the voter. It has been well received that Social media did play an influential role in 2014 elections as well, however, since then, the social media has mediated itself to a ‘dark social media’ phase where information being circulated mostly are fake or misleading. There are around 300 million Whatsapp users in India where videos and the photos are being forwarded in large scale (ET, 2019). Increasing number of fake videos, images and news are manipulating the general public opinion such as redefining Nationalism in recent times have gained a way of creating intolerance and violence within the country. However, the challenge is how much can be regulated of the negative influence of social media which continues to reshape the political culture and voter behaviour? There is no curator and no cost in putting out information in social media. People are getting influenced by the information that is laid out in Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter.
Development Agenda in reality
Development agenda of the country is compromised of schemes for unemployment, maintaining a digitalised Indian economy, transparency in transactions and decentralised tax system, increasing Indian manufacturing sector, investments on infrastructure development and even demonstration of Indian nuclear power capacities.
While India’s urban population remains only 30%, majority of Indians are in the rural settings. Therefore, majority of the Indian voters challenging reality continue with the struggle of access to basic needs such as Access to healthcare, clear water/environment, quality education, affordable public transportation, uncertainty in jobs, insecurity & discrimination and violence based on the gender, caste & religion.
Are the promises made in manifestos guarantee development that people fundamentally needed? As Congress states, doubling allocation for education to 6% of GDP ensures access to quality education yet, will the increase in budget give the students and parents the choice of education they need? Will the minimum income support for farmers titled Kisan Yojana in which Rs. 6000 per year will be given to 120 small million farmers mentioned by BJP will address the long standing farmer issues of this country?
The contradictions in what voters expect and what is being promised and delivered is often a common experience that most of the democracies face. Voters often forget what went wrong and does not rationalise the decisions based on their previous experience. To the contrary, as stated by P. Chidambaram Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, “People of a constituency or a state are not voting for a president of India. They’re voting for a candidate in that constituency and they’re voting on how their lives have become either better or worse in the last five years.” (ET, 2018) Ideally, voters’ decisions are to be based on how he/she has perceived the period of the last 5 years and how they will consider their forthcoming five years, yet it remains a concern in the context of making informed political choice.
Ironically, the fragile healthcare system of the country is not given prominence in the election 2019 by the political parties or the voters, though the healthcare is a matter of life and death. It has not been the deciding fact of the country’s leadership. It is well known that India cannot meet its healthcare supply by maintaining a 1.2% of GDP since the last ten years.
In conclusion, the fact remains that The Indian Political Economy is driven with development as its central focus since colonial independence and it will continue to do so as development gives the legitimacy for the state to exist in the Indian context. Therefore, current political culture has the tendency to translate the agendas of preservation of legitimacy for long-run into votes. Electorate can decide only on the options or choices that they have been given. Therefore, the voter’s choice is influenced by political polarization, institutional attachments, social stratum and popular media. In this context, the opportunities for voters to make informed political choices are at crisis.
In reality, the concept of shallow modernity is coming in the way where people appear to be very modern but the thought processes are not complementing the appearance. The absence of critical thinking and rationalisation have normalised majority of the population to build on blind faith in their dominant institutional values. Social, Economical and Political development translates the advancement and utilization of critical thinking. Critical thinking therefore paves the way to make informed decisions, particularly political decisions through the votes. In the present election context, the 900 million voters of India are with the power to direct the country towards the meaning of the vote that they hold. The rational of their decision will decide the life of 1.37 billion population of India or 17.74% of World Population. Therefore, it is vital that India’s development agenda is being precisely translated to votes so that the decisions taken are sustainable for the country.
1. World Population Review. (2018). Countries of Median Age 2018.
2. Bhartiya Janata Party. (2019). Sankalp Patra- Lok Sabha 2019. New Delhi
3. Business Insider. (2019, March 11). General Elections 2019:
4. Business Standard. (2018, July 18). How caste and religion influence selection of political leaders in India.
5. Business Today. (2019, January 31). India's unemployment rate hit four-decade high of 6.1% in 2017-18,
6. ET. (2018, December 13). It’s all about Narendra Modi as India prepares for mammoth 2019 election.
7. ET. (2019, April 10). View: Anti-social media in Elections 2019.
8. Geography and You. (2017, September 27). What Determines Voting Behaviour in India.
9. Indian National Congress. (2019). Congress will Deliver: Manifesto Lok Sabha ELections 2019. New Delhi
10. March, J. G., & Olsen, J. P. (1989). Rediscovering Institutions: The Organizational Basis of Politics. New York:
11. NCRB. (2016). Crime in India. New Delhi: Ministry of Home Affairs.
12. PIB. (2018, October 31). India Improves Rank by 23 Positions in Ease of Doing Business. India:
13. Transparency International. (2018). Corruption Perception Index 2018