Which political party does Pranab Mukherjee represent?

Politics & Communication

p & k: Mr. Wagner, the parliamentary elections in India are dragging on for five weeks. Why is this taking so long?

Christian Wagner: In a country as large as India, elections cannot be held in a day. The fact that the process takes so many weeks is mainly due to the security problems in some parts of the country. The security forces have to be relocated, which is taking time in a country the size of India.

What are the safety concerns related to?

In some regions there are militant groups who want to prevent the election. There can be riots between the candidates of the parties and their supporters or they try to intimidate and manipulate the citizens. Rural areas in particular are affected by this.

How does the Indian state manage to hold democratic elections under these conditions?

It should not be forgotten that the country's democratic tradition dates back to 1951. The Indian state now has many years of experience in organizing elections and reducing the grievances that arise - also in these dimensions.

Organizing such an election must cost a tremendous amount of money.

That's true. Current estimates assume that around five billion US dollars (about 3.6 billion euros, editor's note) will be spent on the entire election. This would make India the second most expensive election in the world after the US presidential election.

And how democratic are the Indian elections?

In individual cases, perhaps not everything corresponds to our western ideas. The elections are mostly recognized as democratic by all parties involved. With all the grievances there may be, I feel that this is a very good sign.

Who controls whether everything is going well?

Foreign election observers are not allowed in India. But there is an election commission that has appeared more and more independently in recent years. For example, the Commission issues a code of conduct for elections and also monitors whether this code is violated. There are also a number of civil society groups that are pursuing the election.

Which social groups are particularly important for the election result?

It's not that easy to say. The German electorate can - depending on your point of view - be represented with around ten socio-cultural milieus. That doesn't work in India. But it can be said that the choice is made in the country. 70 percent of the people live there. This point is often overlooked.

What do you mean?

The polls very often only reflect the attitudes of the urban middle classes. This is of course an important and growing group, but not the majority.

What does this mean for the election campaign?

The mandates are awarded in 543 constituencies according to simple majority voting. And the structures that determine the election campaign are very different in all constituencies. There are therefore concrete election campaign strategies primarily at the state level, while the national level takes a back seat. The election campaign is more in the hands of the respective candidates, who can thus play a much more autonomous role than in Germany.

How do the candidates finance this effort?

There is no reimbursement of election campaign costs like in Germany. The election commission sets a spending limit for the candidates, which in this election is seven million rupees (about 83,000 euros, editor's note). But that is often not enough to win a seat in parliament. In this year's elections, for the first time, the election commission is monitoring constituencies in which the candidates are particularly suspected of illegally spending additional money on the election campaign.

The top candidate of the liberal BJP, Narendra Modi, is already being celebrated as the winner in the streets. Isn't that a little early?

The outcome of the elections is determined by a number of factors that can hardly be determined in advance, such as the performance of individual regional parties. The incumbent government is given a bad report from many quarters, so that the BJP has a good chance of becoming the strongest party. Both the economy and the urban middle classes want Modi to be prime minister.

Why?

Because he takes an economically liberal course and stands for effective governance. They trust him to bring the country back on track economically. However, the minorities in particular fear the BJP's Hindu nationalist agenda. Reliable results will not be available until May 16. Then it will be announced what the counting of all votes has shown. And then the discussions really start.

What do you mean?

The party with the most votes is given the task of forming a government by President Pranab Mukherjee. But no party will get the 272 seats in parliament that are necessary to elect the prime minister. So there must be coalition negotiations.

Can Modi organize a majority?

That will depend very much on how well his party does. The BJP already has an alliance with two small parties. If the three-party alliance collectively wins 200 seats, it will be easy for Modi to negotiate a coalition. With every seat less, he needs more regional alliance partners, who, however, may not all follow his Hindu nationalist agenda. It is correspondingly more difficult to get a solid majority.