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Reading Between the Election Numbers

Posted by RB Kollannur on March 15, 2009

Disclaimer: Vote share and seat data has been obtained from wikipedia. I haven’t been able to access the ECI website for confirmation, but I’ve confirmed the latter from Manorama Year Book. And please read through and think before you react.

Sometime in August 1947, two nations were born in the Indian subcontinent, leaving behind a century of hardships and the shackles of a colonial past. There were no silver spoons attached nor were there three kings visiting with mead (Or was it three kings visiting from Mede?). But it was still a momentous occasion in human history – the beginning of the end of European colonialism.

They did not get along too well to start off. First there was the bickering over Junagadh and Hyderabad, and then the battle over Kashmir. But the worst was the senseless riots over relocation; a sad event for humanity. In hindsight, it may have been better that they were separated at birth. Imagine Advani trying to sell Hindutva to the most populous Muslim country in the world*. The divisive politics prevalent in India these days would have exploded the nation beyond proportion, even before the Mahatma could have said “Hey Ram”.

While still learning their baby steps, both lost their fathers. In 1948, Gandhi was assassinated; while Jinnah would die of a long term ailment (Incidentally Jinnah’s only child is an Indian). India had Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel to fill in Gandhi’s sandals (Which, by the way, a beer baron has been trying to get his hands on), while Jinnah’s right hand man and Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, would be the key person in Pakistan. Tragically, fate intervened once again, though in reverse this time. It was Sardar Patel who would die of ailment, while Liaquat Ali Khan who would be assassinated.

Leaderless, Pakistan would soon fall into political instability. While the politicians bickered over the Constitution and who should form the government, military insurgency would develop in the Baloch regions (Balochistan) and the Pashtun regions (NWFP & FATA). Regional activism was on the rise in the East with the pro-Bengali Awami Muslim League entering the political arena. The East had the numerical superiority over their western counterparts but the industrial might and the economy was centered in the west. This posed a significant challenge for the west centered government structure of Pakistan.

With the departure of the Muslim League to Pakistan, there was hardly any opposition to the Indian National Congress, who had paved the way for her independence. Communist parties had a limited profile in the country, while the socialist parties, recently devolved from the Congress, were still making early inroads into the countryside. Congress also had Jawaharlal Nehru clearly at its helm, having consolidated leadership after the death of Sardar Patel.

In 1952, India would finally let go off the Windsor monarchy and the Dominion status to become a republic on its own stead, with its first general elections. Unsurprisingly Congress would win with 364 of the 489 seats and 45% vote share in their pockets. The main opposition would be:

1) Communist parties (CPI, Forward Bloc & RSP) – 20 seats and 5% vote share
2) Socialist parties (Socialist Party of India & Kizan Mazdoor Praja Party, who would later merge to form Praja Socialist Party) – 21 seats and 16% vote share.
3) Hindu right wing parties (Jan Sangh, Hindu Mahasabha & Akhil Bharatiya Rama Rajya Parishad) – 10 seats and 6% vote share.

With the stability of the civilian government confirmed and military firmly behind them, the path was set for India to move forward. Though military insurgency would subsequently develop in the North East regions and the East regions and regional activism would rise in the South with the pro-Tamil Dravida parties, who would later enter the political arena, neither had the resources to take on a united central government or its army, unlike in Pakistan.

Pakistan would finally become a republic in 1956, with a civilian government in place. But repeated instability in the government would lead a military takeover of the nation in 1958, under General Ayub Khan. In the meantime, Congress and Jawaharlal Nehru would be brought back to governance in India in 1957, with an even more resounding electoral victory than in 1952 getting 48% of the votes.

By 1958, both India and Pakistan had a level of political stability, albeit at the opposite sides of the freedom spectrum. Bilateral agreements were made. Both would sign the historic Indus Water Treaty in 1960 sharing the waters of the panch ab of Panjab. International diplomacy was in view as well. Pakistan allied itself with USA while neighboring Afghanistan, which had a historic claim over the Pashtun lands of Pakistan, had aligned itself with USSR. India would remain neutral attempting to organize a third front in light of the western / capitalist and the socialist / communist circles of power.

Nehru would be reelected in 1962, but with a mildly lesser majority. The liberal C Rajagopalachari and his nascent Swatantra Party would garner 8% of the electorate (Though only 18 seats in 494 member assembly). Pro Tamil Dravida Munntera Kazhagam would also make its debut in the Lok Sabha with 7 seats. Nehru’s regime would suffer a further blow when China established its presence in Aksai Chin, which connected the Chinese provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet, despite being claimed by India since independence.

General Ayub Khan would also suffer minor reverses winning a highly controversial Presidential election against Fatima Jinnah in 1965, amidst allegations of election fraud. The General needed to recover his losing grip over the populace.

Nehru died in 1964, leaving an open door for a power struggle in Congress. His daughter, Indira, had limited experience in governance, while party veterans like Morarji Desai were eyeing for the leadership. With elections still three years away, the soft spoken Lal Bahadur Shastri was ushered into Prime Ministership.

In 1965, Pakistan would launch a military attack to capture the disputed Kashmir from India. While over-hyped glorified reports filtered into the Pakistan media, the attack was countered by India proceeding to attack Lahore, one of the chief cities of Pakistan. The war would end in a stalemate, with neither party looking forward for a lengthy battle. Status quo was returned, which would precipitate into another crisis for the Pakistani dictator. One of his key ministers, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto would leave and start his own party – Pakistan’s People’s Party which would grow onto become the key opposition for the dictator in West Pakistan. The neglect shown towards East Pakistan during the war would worsen the relations between the East and the West Pakistan.

Lal Bahadur Shastri passed away in Tashkent while bringing the war to a close. Indira Gandhi would succeed as the Prime Minister. As the elections approached, Indira Gandhi would consolidate her hold over the Congress, albeit at limited cost. Regional party leaders like Ajoy Mukherjee and Harekrushna Mahatab would leave Congress to start their own regional parties. The major gainers in the 1967 elections would be the socialist and liberal parties, started by former Congressmen, while Congress would manage to hold on to majority with 283 of 520 seat assembly and 41% vote share – a throwaway compared to the results a decade ago.

Popular discontent would eventually force Ayub Khan out of office and General Yahya Khan would takeover as Head of State. He would call fresh elections in Pakistan that would be won by the pro Bengali Awami League which would gain 160 of the 300 seats, but no representation from West. The largest party in the West would be Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s PPP with 81 seats, creating lot of discontent between the two.

Internal politics would eventually force Indira Gandhi out of Congress and Morarji Desai would takeover as the Congress leader. However, Indira Gandhi would take along most of the party with her leaving behind only a rump party renamed Congress (Organization). Congress (I) would regain most of its lost vote share in 1971 having to deal with fragmented opponents. Incidentally, the socialist and the liberal parties would be the major losers. Indira Gandhi would finally consolidate her governance over India.

Uncertainty continued in Pakistan over governance. An attempted military takeover of East Pakistan would turn badly with the East declaring its independence as Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Liberation War would escalate into a subcontinent war, but Bangladesh would eventually be liberated with the leader of the Awami League, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman as the President. Military rule would be ejected in Pakistan, with civilian government formed under Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He would finally consolidate his governance over Pakistan.

As the next reelections came close, Indira Gandhi would declare a controversial national emergency, giving her despotic powers. The opposition – the socialist parties, the liberal parties, Congress offshoots like Utkal Congress, Bharatiya Kranti Dal and Jana Congress and the Hindu right with Jan Sangh, would combine to form the Janata Party and contest the 1977 elections after the emergency. They would go on to obtain simple majority with 295 seats in the Lok Sabha and 41% of the vote share. Congress (I) would only manage 35% of the votes while the communists, who stayed out of the Janata formation would capitulate to their worst performance since 1952 with only 8% of the vote share. However, differences between the various constituents of the Janata Party would cause the “coalition” to collapse and soon the nation awaited fresh elections.

The opposition – Pakistan Muslim League, the leftist Awami Party and the Muslim right wing parties would combine to form the Pakistan National Alliance and contest the 1977 general elections. They would be trounced by PPP who would manage 155 of the 192 seats. However popular unrest amidst allegation of vote rigging would encourage a military coup by General Zia ul Haq promising fresh elections.

The fresh elections in 1980 would yield power back to Congress (I). The fractured Janata contingent would garner only 28% of the votes, a drop of 13% over the last election.

The fresh elections that were promised never came, with General Zia taking over power. The growing Baloch insurgency, in the wake of Bangladesh freedom, would be tackled by martial law with General Rahimuddin Khan in charge of Balochistan.

The elections in 1989 would usher in a decade of political instability in India. No single party would gain the majority in the Lok Sabha for the first time. Congress (I) was the leading party with 195 seats, but well short of the 272 needed for majority. The Janata Party, reorganized as the Janata Dal, formed a coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party (erstwhile Jan Sangh) and regional parties to form the government. However, the coalition would not last long and another one, with the support of Congress (I), would be propped up, which also failed quickly.

Fresh elections in 1991 would bring Congress (I) to power, though they again failed to achieve majority. They would receive support from other parties to notch up the government. Though they saw through their time, another unstable coalition regime was propped up in 1996, after the next general elections, which would collapse and reorganize and then collapse, eventually leading to another quick election.


The decade of 1989 – 1999 saw Congress (I)’s vote share nearly half – from 49% in 1984 to 28% in 1999. Bharatiya Janata Party, the reorganized Jan Sangh, would steadily climb the party pyramid increasing from 8% in 1984 to 24% in 1999. However neither party would have the ability to form a government on their own.

The Janata contingent which gave opposition to Congress in the early years of the republic would collapse into state based regional parties. Their combined vote share would remain more or less constant through the decade, fluctuating between 12-15%, while the communist parties moved around 8-10%.

The period also saw the growth of home grown regional parties. The pro Tamil Dravida parties had been around since the 1960s, but more parties like the pro-Telugu Telugu Desam Party, pro-Mahratti Shiv Sena, pro-Assam Asom Gana Parishad & Uttar Pradesh based pro-Dalit Bahujan Samaj Party would gain headway within the electorate.

Congress (I) would have rebellion issues as well. After the quick assassinations of Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi, the party lacked a proper direction for leadership, similar to the one after Nehru’s death. There would be many leaders who would distance themselves from the new Congress (I) regime like Arjun Singh, Narayan Tiwari, Madhavrao Schindhia and Sharad Pawar. Although many would eventually return, the last among them, Sharad Pawar, would form the Maharashtra based Nationalist Congress Party.


With the addition of the former Janata parties and the Congress offshoots, the regional vote pie would grow from 6% in 1980 to 34% in 1999. The national parties, Congress (I), BJP and the Janata (while they still a single party) would garner 70% of the votes in the 1980s, but this would fall in the 1990s to less than 50%, with the collapse of Janata and the steady decline of Congress (I).

One fall-out of the frequent changes of party by politicians was to put into word and practice, the Anti Defection Act establishing the primacy of the political party over the politician.

1999 would finally bring back a sense of stability with a seemingly stable coalition propped up by BJP. However, the stability was more on paper than in practice as the national parties grew more dependent on aid from the regional parties. The same scenario would repeat in 2004, though Congress (I) would form the government.

The elections in 1988 would usher in a decade of political stability in Pakistan, for Pakistan’s standards. With the death of General Zia, civilian government would return with Benazir Bhutto, the daughter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, leading PPP to majority. However, the Pakistani Presidency, a remnant of the Zia regime which had sweeping powers over the legislature, would dismiss the government after allegations of corruption. Another government headed by the newly formed Pakistan Muslim League (N) headed by one of Zia appointed civilian government’s key ministers, Nawaz Sharif, would take charge. He also had to deal with a power struggle with the President leading to new elections in 1993 and the resignation of the President. PPP would gain majority with the help of independents and allies. That government would also be dismissed by the President later in 1997, leading to a return for Nawaz Sharif to the government. However a military coup in 1999 would change the political environment yet again and civilian government would be brought back only almost a decade later, after popular unrest and uncomfortable union between PPP and PML – N.

* Going by information from wiki, combining the Muslim population of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh would give over 450 million Muslims in the subcontinent, (30% of the population of the combine) and considerably more than the population of Indonesia, the nation with most Muslim population, close to 200 million and even the entire population of USA pegged at a shade over 300 million. Incidentally India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have roughly the equal Muslim population.

Breakup of groupings used
Congress – Indian National Congress and after 1969 Congress (I)
BJP – Jan Sangh, Hindhu Mahasabha, Akhil Bharatiya Ram Rajya Parishad & Bharatiya Janata Party
Janata – Socialist Party of India, Kizan Mazdoor Praja Party, Praja Socialist Party, Socialist Party (Lohia), Samyuktha Socialist Party, Bharatiya Lok Dal, Janata Party, Janata Party (Secular), Janata Dal, Janata Dal (Gujarat), Janata Dal (United), Janata Dal (Secular), Samajwadi Party, Biju Janata Dal, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samata Party, Samajwadhi Janata Party (Rashtriya). Rashtriya Lok Dal
Left – Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist), All India Forward Bloc & Revolutionary Socialist Party
Liberal – Swatantra Party
BSP – Bahujan Samaj Party
Dravida – Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Pattali Makkal Katchi, Maraumularchi Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam, MGR Anna Dravid Kazhagam
Congress Rebels – Congress (O), Congress (U), Congress (S), Bangla Congress, Utkal Congress, Jana Congress, Bharatiya Kranti Dal, Nationalist Congree Party, Tamil Maanila Congress, Nationalist Trinamul Congress, Haryana Vikas Party, Himachal Vikas Party, Himachal Vikas Congress, Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress, Arunachal Congress, Manipyr State Congress Party, Karnataka Congress Party, Akhil Bharatiya Lok Tantrik Congress

Breakup of groupings used
National – Congress, Janata (1977-1991), BJP (1984- )
Idealogical – Janata (1947-1977), Left, Liberal
Regional – Political parties who derive their votes primarily from a single state.
Andhra Pradesh – People’s Democratic Front, Praja Party, Telengana Praja Samiti, Telugu Desom Party, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, Telengana Rashtra Samiti
Arunachal Pradesh – Arunachal Congress
Assam – Asom Gana Parishad, United Minorities Front Assam, Autonomous State Demand Committee, Natun Asom Gana Parishad, Plains Tribal Council of Assam
Bihar – Jharkhand Party, Chota Nagpur Santhal Praganas Janata Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Janata Dal (United), Lok Janshakti Party
Goa – Different factions of United Goans, Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party
Gujarat – Nutan Maha Gujarat Janata Parishad, Janata Dal (Gujarat)
Haryana – Haryana Lok Samiti, Vishal Haryana, Haryana Vikas Party, Haryana Lok Dal (Rashtriya), Indian National Lok Dal
Himachal Pradesh – Himachal Vikas Party, Himachal Vikas Congress
Jammu & Kashmir – National Conference, People’s Democractic Party, Panther’s Party (Only J&K parties in all cases)
Jharkhand – Jharkhan Mukti Morcha
Karnataka – Karnataka Congress Party, Janata Dal (Secular)
Kerala – Travancore Tamil Nadu Congress Party, Indian Union Muslim League, Different factions of Kerala Congress (incl IFDP)
Madhya Pradesh – Madhya Pradesh Vikas Congress
Maharashtra – Different factions of Republican Party of India, Peasants and Workers Party of India, Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party
Manipur – Manipur People’s Party, Manipur State Congress Party
Mizoram – Mizo National Front
Nagaland – United Front of Nagaland, Nagaland People’s Council
Orissa – Utkal Congress, Biju Janata Dal
Punjab – Different factions of Shiromani Akali Dal
Sikkim – Sikkim Janata Parishad, Sikkim Democratic Front
Tamil Nadu – Different offshoots of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Tamil Nadu Toilers’ Party, Madras State Muslim League Party, Tamil Maanila Congress
Uttar Pradesh – Bharat Kranti Dal, Rashtriya Lok Dal, Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party, Samajwadi Janata Party (Rashtriya)
West Bengal – Bangla Congress, Nationalist Trinamool Congress

3 Responses to “Reading Between the Election Numbers”

  1. […] Now that the general elections are upon us, Arby_K looks at the elections from 1952 to 1999 and reads between the numbers. […]

  2. aks said

    Appreciate the research u have done into this …..Excellent comparison between the Indian and Pakistani political developments post partition !

  3. Arby K said

    U know me. I get a lot excited when I see a lot of numbers, and some history to boot. 🙂 The post probably ended up a bit too long in the end.

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