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As the number of total Coronavirus cases in India has surged past 50 lakh, making it the second worst affected country in the world, the Election Commission team has returned from initial inspections in Bihar, and are likely to announce the dates of the state election any day. The Election Commission has announced fresh guidelines for holding elections. With revised instructions of mandatory temperature checks, masks, gloves, caps on the number of voters in each polling booth, the state of Bihar is gearing up to vote in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic.

The 2020 state elections in Bihar will be historic and it remains to be seen whether, despite EC guidelines, voters will feel comfortable enough to turn out to exercise their franchise as Coronavirus cases in Bihar continue to rise. As we are weeks away from the elections, in our first article in this series we have a look at the political history of Bihar over the years, including the rise of two regional satraps on the national stage: Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar.

Since the 1990s, politics in Bihar has been dominated by regional political parties, namely the Janata Dal (United), and Rashtriya Janata Dal. There was a huge shift in Bihari politics in the 1980s, with a rise of the OBC castes such as Yadav, Kurmi and Koeri replacing those belonging to the upper castes in politics. This culminated in the victory of Lalu Prasad Yadav, a student leader from Patna University, as the Chief Minister of Bihar in 1990.


The Janata Dal, a new party swept the elections to win the highest number of seats and vote share, winning 122 seats and 25.61 per cent respectively, in the 1990 elections. Lalu Prasad Yadav became the Chief Minister of Bihar, defeating Ram Sundar Das, a former chief minister from the Janata Party by a slender margin.

To win the election, Lalu relied on the OBC vote and Muslim vote in Bihar, which had traditionally supported the Congress. He successfully won the OBC vote by championing a ‘social justice’ platform which promised to give jobs to the OBC castes (particularly the Yadavs). This issue became fraught particularly with Lalu’s support for the Mandal commission which outlines specific reservations for the OBC castes. Lalu successfully positioned himself as a leader for the lower castes in a state where politics for the longest time had been dominated by those in the upper class, led by the Indian National Congress. The INC had been in power in Bihar for a long time and in the 1990 election lost a mammoth 125 seats.

Lalu further positioned himself to appease Muslim voters, who had again been formerly supportive of the INC. Using the Bhagalpur Hindu-Muslim riots, which led to the death of over 1000 people, as a core issue, Lalu made the case that the INC did not serve the interests of Muslims and that he instead would be their true leader. In fact, this began to be known as the “MY” (Muslim Yadav) factor of the base of Lalu Yadav’s support in Bihar.

After coming to power, Lalu focused on his social justice project, aiming to give dignity to those from the backward castes even although his policies did not bring massive development to the state. He enacted several populist measures such as bringing ‘savarna’ schools to Dalit hamlets, restraining riots and violence against backward minorities. During his time, Lalu created narratives of defeating the upper caste as a leader of the lower castes which cemented his place within the lower castes who regarded him as a hero.


The 1995 election saw Lalu come back to power with the Janata Dal increasing its seat count to 147 and its vote share to 28%. However, this was soon followed by a raid on government offices in January 1996, which revealed a Rs 950-crore embezzlement scam. Now known as the fodder scam, the documents showed that under the Lalu government, large-scale state funds had been given to non-existent companies to buy animal feed. What started as a low-level embezzlement scheme soon started to turn towards high-level politicians and bureaucrats, eventually reaching Lalu himself. In June 1997, the CBI filed charges against Lalu who claimed to be innocent. He faced pressure from the Janata party to resign as Chief Minister, however, he instead decided to leave the Janata Party and form his own party called the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD).

However, due to the growing pressure on him, he resigned as Chief Minister in June 1997, only to have his wife, Rabri Devi become the Chief Minister. She won the vote of confidence in the legislature and became the Chief Minister of Bihar. Through his wife, Lalu continued to influence Bihar politics, although he was sidelined with the growing investigation.


In the 2000 election, facing great opposition, the new RJD party won a reduced 124 seats, however, had a greater vote share of 28.34%. The result was enough for the RJD to come back into power, with Rabri Devi continuing as Chief Minister. The number of seats in Bihar was also reduced to 243 in 2000. However, the election of Rabri Devi as Chief Minister followed a period of absolute chaos in Bihar with constant violent skirmishes taking place in society. The upper castes who had been neglected by the Lalu and Rabri governments became frustrated and generated resentment against the lower castes.

Rabri Devi as Chief Minister was not able to deal with the violence and the situation continued to get worse. Termed ‘jungle raj’ this era of lawlessness in Bihar put the entire state into a state of complete chaos. There were daily reports of doctors, businessmen and women being kidnapped in broad daylight for ransom. Mohammad Shahabuddin, a mafia head and a close aide of Lalu, ran a strong network of gangsters and later contested from Siwan. Other crimes in the state were also at an all-time high with expensive goods such as cars raided and stolen constantly. This made investors particularly scared of investing in the state and setting up businesses, which hurt the state economically.

One of the major causes of violence was the lack of development in Bihar. Bihar under Lalu and Rabri Devi’s rule had failed to grow unlike the rest of the nation and this poor development had made people increasingly frustrated and turned towards violence to secure scarce resources. A further rise in crime under the leadership of Rabri Devi led to a further decline in development in the state. The state became a hotbed for corruption, poverty and violence. Voters themselves became disaffected.


In the 2005 election in February, despite facing enormous opposition, the new RJD party won the highest number of seats and vote share, however, it was unable to secure a majority, forcing another election in October. The October election saw the tide turn against the RJD, with the Janata Dal (United) coming to power. The JDU won 88 seats compared to the RJD’s 54. However, the RJD still secured a higher vote share (23.45% to 29.46%). During these elections, for the first time, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also made inroads into Bihar, getting 55 seats, more than the RJD. Nitish Kumar, leader of the JDU, allied with the BJP and with the support of the two largest parties in the legislature is appointed as Chief Minister of Bihar.

Nitish Kumar was able to win the elections by positioning himself strongly against Lalu, advocating for interests of the other backward castes besides the Yadavs and for the forward castes. Moreover, he promised to remove the ‘identity’ politics that Lalu had brought and cemented in Bihar and replace it with a politics of development. After coming into power, Nitish Kumar worked towards removing the sense of lawlessness that prevailed in Bihar. The development strategy that Kumar pursued did also bear fruit with Bihar’s growth often outpacing that of other states in India, something that had mostly failed to happen in previous years. Moreover, his anti-violence measures were successful with figures from the National Crime Records Bureau data showing a reduction in crime in Bihar.


The JDU came into the 2010 elections as favourites and came out with the highest number of seats (115) collecting 22.58% of the vote. However, the JDU faced competition from the BJP which continued its rise in Bihar and secured 91 seats. The JDU’s win in 2010 can be attributed to a great development-caste strategy. Nitish Kumar while continuing to promote the development strategy, ensured he had support from different caste groups as well, which ensured a landslide victory for the JDU-BJP coalition.

During his second tenure, Nitish Kumar continued to pursue his development policies, with Bihar growing at over 10%, beating several other states and the national average in terms of growth. In fact, Developmental Economist Jean Dreze pointed out that the Bihar government was able to combat corruption effectively as well, with leakages from public investment coming down to 25% from over 75% in the Lalu days. This helped reduce poverty in the state, and the overall condition of health infrastructure and education improved significantly. Kumar’s policies such as giving bicycles to young girls, allowing them to get to school proved to be highly successful.

While on the policy front, Kumar continued to do well, there emerged a rift in the BJP-JDU alliance in 2013, when Nitish Kumar did not support Narendra Modi’s candidature for Prime Minister in the 2014 elections. This wrecked the BJP and JDU’s 17-year alliance. Consequently, the BJP and JDU alliance severed and when the JDU was swept by the BJP in the Bihar Lok Sabha elections, Nitish Kumar resigned as CM, with Jitan Ram Manjhi being sworn in. The BJP did conduct a floor test in 2014. However, the JDU by then had gotten the support of the RJD and through their support was able to continue to remain in power in Bihar.


For the 2015 election, a mahagathbandhan or grand alliance was announced between the RJD, INC and JDU, who would contest the BJP in the Bihar elections with Nitish Kumar as the proposed CM candidate. The alliance was very successful winning 178 seats of 243. However, the BJP had the highest vote share with 24.42% which gave it only 53 seats. The election saw Nitish Kumar coming back to power as the CM of Bihar. Subsequently, in April 2016, Kumar also declared Bihar a dry State while imposing total prohibition on the sale and consumption of liquor, securing him great favorability with women.

However, in 2017 internal divisions caused Nitish Kumar to lead the JDU out of the alliance and instead ally with the BJP to secure power in Bihar. The reason behind this split was the internal division within the alliance with Lalu continuing to wield power and new corruption charges being levied against Lalu and the RJD. Seeing the RJD as a sinking ship, Kumar decided to flip sides and join hands with friend-turned-foe BJP, a move which came about in 14 hours, and ensured Kumar continued to be the CM of Bihar.

However, despite being popular in the state, Kumar faces opposition going into the 2020 elections, with the alliance between the BJP and JDU being fragile. The political landscape remains unpredictable as voters in the state are preparing to vote in the first elections to be held in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. In next week’s column we will breakdown the caste-wise voting dynamics in the state and the changes in voting patterns and party loyalties.

With inputs from Devang Laddha, Meher Manga and Arpita Wadhwa

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Statistically Speaking




Photographs by Wikimedia Commons


In a widely scrutinized and highly contested battle, incumbent Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee led the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) to victory in the 2021 Assembly Elections. Despite having to battle against high anti-incumbency sentiments, electoral machinery of the BJP, and some widely publicised defections from top party aides, Banerjee successfully led the AITC to victory, securing 213 out of the 292 seats that went to poll. The AITC managed to increase its seat share by 2 seats and it’s vote share also increased to 47.95% this time, a surge from 2019 (43.70%) and 2016 (45.60%).

Although the Chief Minister lost her own seat, Nandigram, to long-time protege and now BJP member Suvendu Adhikari with a margin of merely 1,736 votes, the party’s large scale victory is all anyone can seem to talk about. What is also noteworthy is that the party also managed to secure a victory in minority-dominated regions of Malda and Murshidabad, which directly affected the Left-Congress’ position.

The BJP, which emerged as the principal opposition party, failed to secure the kind of victory it hoped for and had to settle with 77 seats and a vote share of 38.12%. In 2016, the BJP had managed to secure just 6 seats and a vote share of 10.80%. This changed significantly during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, when the party, which had almost no political footprint in the state secured 18 seats. However, the party’s vote share has come down by 2.58% from 40.7% votes in 2019 to 38.12% in 2021. The 18 seats won by the BJP account for about 121 Assembly seats, out of which it was only able to retain only half of the seats, and the TMC won the remaining 60. In addition to this, the BJP’s vote share in those seats also fell by 10% from 2019 to 2021.

Given the high intensity campaign of the BJP, using star campaigners such as Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, the party failed to reach anywhere near the mark of 200 it had speculated. Undoubtedly, the party’s failure to have a clear Chief Ministerial candidate and public failure in containing the second wave of the Covid-19 crisis has played a role in the elections.

The Left-Congress-ISF alliance or the Sanjukta Morcha, locally called the jot, was nearly wiped out in the state, managing to win just one seat and securing a combined vote share of 8.6%.

The Left Front, which ruled the state for 34 years until Mamata Bannerjee unseated it in 2011, not only fell drastically short of its 2016 vote share of 21.18% but also failed to retain its vote percentage from the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Both the Left and the INC will not have even one single MLA in the 294 seat assembly, with the only seat that the Samyukta Morcha will represent being in favour of ISF chairman Naushad Siddique from Bhangar.


As the counting of votes continued on May 2nd, perhaps the victory in Assam was the only consolation for the BJP, as it secured a very comfortable win in the state election. While the anti-CAA and NRC protests led to the emergence of new parties and alliances such as the United Regional Front and the Congress’s Mahajot in an effort to win the state back, BJP managed to keep control of the state, winning a staggering majority of 75 seats in the 126 seat assembly.

However, this marks a loss of 11 seats since the last time when the alliance secured a win in 74 seats and a vote share of 38% (excluding 12 seats and 4% vote share of BPF). Individually, the BJP maintained its previous tally of 60 seats but increased its vote share from 29.8% in 2016 to 33.21% in 2021. When compared to its 2019 vote share, the BJP lost 3.19%.

Pre-poll alliances also saw major shifts when BJP’s long-time ally Bodoland People’s Front (BPF) left the NDA to join the UPA. The party’s seat share reduced from 12 seats in 2016 to 4, and its vote share also declined from 4% in 2016 to 3.39% in 2021. The Congress, which was fighting to gain back power in the state only managed to secure 29 seats, increasing its seats in the assembly by 3, whereas its vote share came down slightly with a loss of 1.63% (29.7% vote share in 2021). Its ‘Mahajoth’ allies AIUDF won 16, and Bodoland People’s Front bagged four seats with a combined vote share of 12.68%. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) secured one seat with 0.84% of votes whereas the Communist Party of India (CPI) failed to gain a seat.

Although the BJP-led NDA is slated to form a government for the second consecutive term, it is unclear if incumbent CM Sarbananda Sonowal (who won from Majuli) will continue in his position. This is even more uncertain since after the former Congress leader Himanta Biswa Sarma joined the BJP in 2015 and has bagged the Jalukbari seat with a margin of over one lakh votes and won an assembly seat for the fifth consecutive time and has a key role in expanding the party’s fortunes in the state.


MK Stalin, the son of Muthuvel Karunanidhi and the leader of the DMK, will finally take his position as the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, a position that he has perhaps been waiting for over two decades. Breaking the 10 years of AIADMK rule in the state, the DMK-led alliance has secured a majority in the state, winning 159 seats in the 234 seat assembly. The elections also reaffirm the bipolar nature of politics in the state as there will be no candidate from outside the two dominant alliances led by DMK and AIADMK, represented in the legislative assembly.

The results mark the rise of the DMK alliance since the 2019 LS elections when it wiped out the AIADMK-led NDA by winning 35 of 38 seats leaving just one seat for the NDA. The DMK individually won 133 seats in the 2021 elections, marking an increase of 44 seats from the 89 seats it secured during the 2016 elections. The DMK-led alliance’s vote share has increased from 39.30% in 2016 to 44.39%, however, it has declined from the 50.90% it managed to secure during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The INC, which is also a part of the DMK alliance has increased its MLA count in the state to 18. However, its vote share has declined from 6.5% in 2016 to 4.28% this time.

Although the AIADMK-led NDA managed to secure 75 seats in 2021, this was a major decline from the 126 seats it secured in 2016. In terms of vote share, the NDA, which includes AIADMK, BJP & PMK, bagged 39.72%, a rise of nearly 9.02% points from 30.70% in 2019. When compared to 2016, the alliance clocked a loss of a small 2.08% from 41.80% in 2016. The BJP opened its account in the state for the first time in 20 years by winning 4 seats with a vote share of 2.63% which was still a drop from 3% in 2016.

Although around 14.46% of the vote share went to parties other than those in the two major alliances, they will not be sending any MLA to the assembly. Popular actor Kamal Hassan who floated his own party Makkal Nidhi Maiam failed to win any seat in the 234 seat assembly. Similarly, The TTV Dhinakaran-led AMMK and its alliance partner Vijayakant-led DMDK also failed to gain a single seat in the assembly.


Marking a huge change in politics, the state, for the first time in 40 years is slated to beat anti-incumbency and elect the same party to power for a second consecutive term. The incumbent Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by 76-year-old CPI(M) leader Pinarayi Vijayan won 99 seats in the 140 seat assembly, a gain of 8 seats from the last assembly elections. The LDF, which had managed to secure a vote share of 43.48% in 2016, increased it to 47.60% in 2019, however, this has now dropped again to 37.5% in 2021.

The main opposition alliance, the United Democratic Front (UDF) led by Congress focused its campaign in the state on highlighting the “mistakes” of the LDF government, including the gold smuggling scandal and the Sabarimala verdict. However, it only managed to secure 41 seats, a fall of 6 seats as compared to 2016. The UDF’s vote share also declined from 38.81% in 2016 and 47.60% in 2019 to 36.6% this time. The INC, which individually won 22 seats in 2016 saw a loss of 1 seat this time but increased its vote share by 1.32% to 25.12%. When comparing to its vote share of 37.5% in 2019, the party was at a major disadvantage.

The BJP-led NDA which had one seat in 2016 with a vote share of 14.96% failed to retain it, winning no seats at all this time, and bagging a reduced 11.30% vote share despite the party sending major names like Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah to rally for the candidates in the state.



The INC government in the Union Territory of Puducherry, which was one of the last citadels of the Congress in the south, collapsed a month before the U.T. was set to go to polls. The U.T., which was currently under President’s Rule opted for a change in government, with the All India N.R. Congress (AINRC) winning 16 seats. The contest in Puducherry was a two-pronged battle between the Congress-DMK alliance and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) comprising the All India NR Congress (AINRC), the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

As a part of the NDA, the AINRC individually won 10 seats, while the BJP won 6. The AIADMK, which is also part of the alliance, did not manage to secure a single seat in the state. The DMK and the Congress, on the other hand, won six and two seats respectively. This was a decline for the INC, which had wrested control of the U.T. from the AINRC in 2016, managing to secure 15 seats, and forming a government with the support of the DMK, which had won 2 seats.


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In an attempt to capture the country’s sentiment on the coronavirus crisis, Team C-Voter has been conducting a daily tracking poll from March 16th, 2020 among 18+ adults statewide, including every major demographic. The poll asks questions to respondents across the country about their economic and social well being, along with their sentiments on the fear of the virus and availability of food/ration in their households.

In mid-September 2020, since COVID cases reached a peak of more than 93,000 per day, infections began to decline steadily. By the middle of February 2021, India was only recording an average of 11,000 cases a day. In fact, in early March India’s health minister Harsh Vardhan said the country was “in the endgame” of the pandemic. However, in less than a month the situation changed drastically and the country is in the grips of a deadly second wave of the virus.

As of mid-April, India is experiencing a record-high rise in the daily number of cases every day. On 26th April, India recorded 3.52 lakh new COVID cases in a 24-hour period, the highest daily case count recorded in any country since the discovery of the virus in China more than a year ago. The country is now experiencing a major public health emergency as reports are coming in from all states about shortages of oxygen, ICU beds, ambulances, and essential medications. Using the Team C-Voter daily tracker, we will break down the changes in public opinion about the fear of the coronavirus and public approval of the government’s handling of the past few weeks as compared to the first wave of the virus in 2020.


In 2020, during the months of April and May when India was under a series of strict lockdowns, the percentage of people who were scared of getting the coronavirus stabilized at around 41-45%. These numbers began to increase after the announcement of the lockdown relaxations and the unlock phase in the country, reaching an all-time high average of around 60% in August and September 2020. However, since the first week of October, the percentage of those who were scared that they or someone else in their family could catch the coronavirus began to decline.

In January 2021, the percentage of people who said that they were scared that they or someone else in their family could catch the coronavirus was at an all-time low of around 35%. Such low percentages were only recorded before in March of 2020 before the announcement of the Janata Curfew and the subsequent country-wide lockdown. These numbers went as low as 27% towards the end of February when the general public perception seemed to be that India had “defeated” the pandemic.

However, since the last few weeks in March, the fear of the virus has increased substantially once again as the total number of positive cases is touching an all-time high. Around 50% of people have said they fear that they or someone else in their family could catch the coronavirus in the past few weeks. As of April 2021, India is the second-worst affected country in the world by the coronavirus.


In 2020, in the days leading up to the Janata Curfew on March 22nd, around 75% of Indians believed that the government was handling the coronavirus crisis well. After the announcement of the first nationwide lockdown on March 24th, this figure began to increase gradually. However, it wasn’t until the first few days of April that over 93% of the respondents said that they thought the government was doing a good job in handling the crisis. This high approval rating continued until the end of May. However, since the announcement of the opening-up of the economy and the subsequent announcement of the unlock phases in June 2020, the percentage of those who agree with the way the government has been handling the crisis had been declining, reaching around 78% towards the end of the year.

Nonetheless, throughout the months of January and February 2021, the percentage of people who agreed with the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis stabilized at around 80%. This relatively high approval rating continued till the end of March. However, since the last few weeks in March, once again the approval of the government’s handling of the crisis had begun to decline gradually as cases continued to touch record-highs every day. On 21st April, India recorded 312,731 new COVID cases in a 24 hour period, the highest daily case count recorded in any country since the discovery of the virus in China more than a year ago.

While some states such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Delhi have lockdown restrictions in place to prevent the explosive spread of the virus, no nationwide lockdown has been announced. India is now grappling with a major public health emergency as reports are coming in from all states about shortages of oxygen, ICU beds, ambulances, and essential medications. However, during an address to the nation, on April 20th, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged states to announce a lockdown only as a “last measure”. On April 25th, 2021, the percentage of people who approve the government’s handling of the crisis fell to 68.8%. This is the lowest it has been since the start of the pandemic last year in India. During the first wave in 2020, this figure was as high as 94%.

As we can see, the shortage of medical supplies, including necessary medication, oxygen and ICU beds has caused a dip in Indians’ approval of the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. In the past few weeks, there has been a huge shortage in availability of oxygen cylinders and tankers which are necessary for transportation of oxygen from manufacturers to hospitals and individuals. This has created a massive shortage in availability of oxygen, which is highly demanded by COVID 19 patients who require urgent oxygen support.


In the days leading up to the Janata Curfew on March 22nd, over 75% of Indian households only had ration/money for ration to last them for less than a week. However, after the announcement of the first nationwide lockdown on March 24th, households gradually began to stock up, with only around 22% having ration/money for ration for less than a week by April 4th.

It is critical to note that throughout various phases of the lockdown, during the months of April and May, roughly 11-13% of Indians still reported having ration/money for ration for less than a week. For a country of 1.35 billion, this would translate to around 150- 175 million people who were living hand to mouth throughout the lockdown period. Even after the opening up of the economy on June 1st, and the subsequent start of the unlock period on June 8th, the majority of Indian households continue to be stocked up, with over 50% of them having enough ration for more than 3 weeks. This trend continued till the end of the year, with roughly 50% of households stating that they had food/money for food for more than 3 weeks, while around 15% were living hand to mouth, with food/money for enough supplies only to last them for less than a week.

Towards the middle of April, as coronavirus cases skyrocketed across the country, several states, including Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Delhi, Punjab, and Karnataka imposed severe restrictions, eventually leading to the announcement of a complete lockdown. When comparing the figures from 2020 and 2021, we observe that throughout April and May in 2020, when a strict lockdown was ongoing in the country, the percentage of people who said they only have ration/money for ration for less than a week was around 11-13%. On the other hand, in 2021, from the end of March till mid-April (as restrictions are being put in place) this percentage is slightly more at around 15-17%. Once again, to put this into perspective, for a country of about 1.35 billion people, this would translate to around 200-215 million people who are now living hand to mouth as a result of the lockdown imposed to curtail the spread of the second wave of COVID-19.

India is currently experiencing a deadly second wave of coronavirus crisis and as we continue to be under lockdown to fight the spread of the disease, another need is to fight against the spread of misinformation and inaccurate perception which can be as deadly as the virus. Our team at Polstrat hopes that everyone is staying safe and following all government guidelines to help curtail the spread of the virus. Through our tracking poll, we will continue to keep you updated on changes in public perception of the virus.

Current survey findings and projections are based on the Team C-Voter daily tracking poll conducted from March 22nd, 2020 to April 25th, 2021 among 18+ adults statewide, including every major demographic.

The data is weighted to the known demographic profile of every state, including age group, social group, income, region, gender and education levels.

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TMC Report Card 2016-2021




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Statistically Speaking




On April 6th, as voting closed for assembly elections in various states in India, including Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Puducherry, West Bengal and Assam, reports of clashes between political parties from almost every part of the country came to light. Parties accused each other of buying votes for cash, liquor, freebies and of orchestrating electoral fraud by tampering with electronic voting machines (EVMs).

Such allegations during any election in India are not new at all and have become a standard feature of every bypoll, assembly and state election in India. Another common form of electoral malpractice in India is the violation of the model code of conduct as prescribed by the Election Commission of India (ECI).

The ECI, a constitutional body under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Law and Justice, the Government of India is responsible for the conduct of elections at the national level, state level and local level.

The ECI is responsible to ensure that any instances of electoral malpractice and fraud are kept under check as per various laws to ensure that everyone has a level playing field. Let us take a deep dive into these accusations and find out what is the truth behind them.


On 5 April, before the single-phase voting was set to begin in Tamil Nadu, residents of a village in Namakkal district held a protest. The reason? The protesters alleged that they had been left out when a political party was distributing cash for votes for polling the next day. Clashes were witnessed on polling day between several political parties in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala accusing each other of giving out cash for votes. Undoubtedly, distributing cash and other freebies such as liquor, narcotics for votes has become a commonplace practice in Indian elections.

The distribution of any cash, gifts, liquor or other items is not permitted when the election model code of conduct is in force by the Election Commission of India. It falls under the definition of ‘bribery’ — an offence under Section 171 (B) of IPC — and Representation of the People Act, 1951. However, despite this, as per data provided by the ECI, roughly three times as much cash, liquor, narcotics and other freebies have been seized so far in 2021 as compared to during the assembly elections in 2016 in the same states.

Till April 6th (before the day of polling) the ECI has roughly seized unaccounted cash, liquor, narcotics, precious metals and other freebies worth Rs. 948 crores from all poll-bound states. In 2016, the same figure was at around Rs. 226 crores. Out of all the freebies seized, cash accounted for the highest percentage (Rs. 331.56 crores), followed by precious metals (Rs. 226.82 crores).

In fact, the exchange of cash and freebies for votes is so common that many politicians have talked about the “going rates” for a vote during elections. In a report written in the Scroll during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a politician from Arunachal Pradesh remarked, “Last time, I wanted to contest, so I did a recce … the rate was Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 per vote, and there are around 17,000 to 18,000 voters, so adding the cost … it came to around Rs 25 crore to Rs 30 crore. I decided not to contest, it was beyond me.”

Studies conducted by various independent research agencies have shown that the trend of “note for vote” has become extremely common in India and has been on the rise irrespective of the socio-economic status of the recipients. In fact, the earliest evidence of bribing voters goes all the way back to the mid-1950s when parties would offer meals to people and then later request them to vote in their favour.

It is also important to keep in mind that the amounts seized by the ECI, are just a drop in the bucket of the actual amounts of money in circulation during elections. While the election commission places limits on election spending of around Rs. 50-70 lakh for Lok Sabha election candidates, and around Rs. 20-28 lakh for each assembly candidate, the actual expenditures far exceed these limits.

While certainly not all of the expenditure of candidates goes into exchanging cash for votes, it is certainly a significant portion of the expenditure.

Even during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the ECI reported cumulative seizures of cash and freebies amounting to roughly Rs. 5,000 crores, while the overall estimated expenditure during elections was at around Rs. 55,000 crores (Centre for Media Studies). As per data available, 8,024 candidates participated in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Even if we take the upper limit of permitted spending per candidate it adds up to a total expenditure of around Rs. 6,639.22 crores. However, estimates suggest that all candidates themselves spent at least Rs. 24,000 crores in the elections.

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Statistically Speaking




Elections in India are not run any differently from how the parliament itself runs, covered in allegations between members and parties. While allegations are standard practice of campaigning (indeed politics) and often unfounded, there are many instances of malpractice during elections regardless of the guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India (ECI). From the purchase of votes, violence, excessive election spending to campaigning within the last 48 hours of voting, there are instances of candidates flouting all rules. Much research has been done on the effectiveness of paying for votes directly to voters in the form of cash or goods which shows us that the effectiveness is undecided and often negated thanks to the secret ballot.

In this column, we will look at some major allegations which are taken up at a large scale and look at the reality on the ground. The contrast of speaking out against corruption during campaigns and at the same time disregarding the model code of conduct set by the ECI provides a glimpse into the workings of politics in the country. Though we have come a long way from mass booth capturing and dumping of votes there still are many aspects of the election process that we as a country need to improve. When the validity of electronic voting machines (EVMs) was questioned, (voter-verified paper audit trail) VVPATs were introduced to ensure fair voting. The ECI actively works on handling complaints swiftly and even holding re-elections in areas but the complex systems in place for the largest elections in the world still have ways to go to ensure there is no truth left behind these allegations.

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Statistically Speaking




One of the first rules of the model code of conduct (MCC), as prescribed by the ECI, is that “no party or candidate shall include in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic”. In simple words, it prohibits hate speech. In 2021 so far, the Election Commission has placed a ban on several candidates, including West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and DMK leader A Raja for using communal and religious rhetoric in their speeches while campaigning.

It is no secret that elections in India are fueled by emphasising communal and religious identity. Hence, it is no surprise that parties use such rhetoric while campaigning to emphasise and re-establish community identity. You may ask: if this is such a commonplace practice, what is the ECI doing to curb the same? The ECI has launched a mobile application whereby any citizen can share proof of malpractice by political parties, candidates and activists when the MCC is in force. The information uploaded from the application is transferred to a control room, where field units or flying squads are alerted for further action.

However, the ECI has also highlighted that it has extremely limited powers in addressing the issue of violation of the MCC by candidates and parties through the usage of hate speech. In 2019, during the Lok Sabha elections, in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed the Supreme Court, called the commission “toothless” for failing to act against political leaders who made polarizing speeches. The Supreme Court had made an inquiry into action being taken against leaders who had made polarizing speeches, to which the ECI replied that it does not have any powers by which it can disqualify a candidate for violating the rules of conduct. The counsel for the EC explained that in any case of the violation of the MCC, in the first instance, the candidate is issued a notice and a reply is sought. If the candidate does not respond, then an advisory is issued, after which the EC files a complaint.

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