Hectic preparations for the 2024 general elections are currently underway and Indians will soon be exercising their ‘right to vote’ in the world’s largest democracy. But, what proportion of Indians have been exercising their right in the past elections? Will there be a Modi-wave this time too? A closer look at the past trend can throw some answers.

businessline’s analysis of Lok Sabha elections since 1952 shows that voter turnout in Lok Sabha election ranged between 55 to 68 per cent. The last two general elections recorded the highest voter turnout in India, with 66.4 per cent and 67.4 per cent in the 2014 and 2019 general elections, respectively.

The co-director of the Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Sanjay Kumar, says, “The turnouts have been rising due to various factors. People are becoming more interested in elections and are valuing their votes much more than in the past. Additionally, the Election Commission has managed to make the voting process much more desirable for the people. Moreover, the quality of the electoral roll has also improved, which are the primary reasons for the higher turnout.”

Voter turnout in India is however much lower compared with countries such as Australia, Indonesia and Brazil, where more than 79 per cent of the electorate vote in the general elections.

Electoral wave

The data from the Election Commission of India shows that out of the past 17 parliamentary elections held in India from 1952 to 2019, voter turnout surpassed 60 per cent in nine elections. Presence of an electoral wave can be one of the reasons behind a surge in voter turnout.

According to an academic journal, South Asia Research, the concept of electoral wave can be interpreted in three distinct ways as a result of diminishing competitive politics at the national level, stemming from increased voter turnout and characterised by amplified vote share in politics.

The 2019 general elections appears to be a good example of an electoral wave with the opposition in a chaotic mess, highest ever voter turnout and the Narendra Modi-led BJP returning to power with a record high 37 per cent vote share.

Historically, out of these nine parliamentary elections, where the voter turnout has been high, in five such elections, a single party has received a majority of votes, while the opposition party’s vote share remained skewed.

In 1967, the Indian National Congress (INC) received a 40 per cent vote share, leading Indira Gandhi to assume the Prime Minister’s position. In another instance, INC recorded a 48 per cent vote share due to a sympathy wave following the assassination of Indira Gandhi, favouring Rajiv Gandhi’s government. Despite a decrease to 39 per cent in 1989, INC still secured a clear victory.

Vote share of parties

However, in the early 1990s, the political landscape underwent significant changes primarily due to the Ayodhya movement in the post-Mandal period, leading to an electoral shift towards the BJP, garnering some level of voter support. Its vote share increased from 19 per cent in the 1991 general election to 25 per cent in the 1998 general election. However, its vote share subsequently decreased to below 25 per cent and it remained in opposition from 2004 to 2014.

The anti-incumbency wave helped the BJP come to power in the 2014 general election, which gradually transformed into the Modi wave in the 2019 general election, with 31 per cent and 37 per cent vote share, respectively.

Kumar points out that, “The BJP is expected to use the construction of the Ram Mandir, reaching out to the poor through welfare schemes and Modi Guarantee campaign as primary tools to attract voters in the 2024 elections.”

He also adds, “However, the opposition party bloc has become slightly more consolidated compared to the 2019 election.”

Increasing trend in turnout and vote share coupled with a weak opposition, once again portends voter turnout above 60 per cent and another electoral wave this time. Only time will tell if this will prove right.