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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: India Elections  
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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 25 March, 1998, 16:00 GMT
Indian election briefing
  • India is considered to be the world's largest functioning democracy. Its 600 million voters went to the polls on February 16, 22 and 28 to elect a new government. Voting was staggered to help ease the chaos.

  • In rural areas turnout has been as high as 80%. Turnout has averaged 57% in the 11 polls since independence and is rising.

  • Violence is common in Indian elections. In 1991, 300 people were killed including Rajiv Gandhi. Just 50 died during the last campaign.

  • In 1996, more than 800,000 voting booths were used, staffed by 4.5 million civilian employees with more than 1.5 million policemen standing guard. More than 5,000 tons of ballot paper were printed.

  • The Election commission estimates that of the 13,952 candidates who stood for election in 1996, more than one in ten were facing criminal charges.

More details
Analysis: Vijay Rana on the health of the democractic system
Despatch: Alastair Lawson on the fears of apathy this time round

This time round

This election was India's second in two years and offers little chance of providing political stability. The main contenders were: the Congress party who have ruled India for most of its democratic history but have recently been in trouble; the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party that won more seats than any other in 1996 but which is opposed by all other parties; and the United Front, a coalition of small, regional parties.

The election was called after the UF government lost the support of Congress over allegations that a coalition partner had links with the assassins of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

More details
Causes of the election
BJP: profile
Congress: profile

The Gandhi factor

These elections were given added spice with the announcement on December 29th that Rajiv Gandhi's widow, Sonia, was to campaign for the Congress Party.

She has long resisted calls for her to enter active politics and follow in the footsteps of the family dynasty.

She later made it known that she would not be standing as a parliamentary candidate herself - despite pressure in the seat of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, the constituency represented by her late husband , Sonia Gandhi declined to file papers, but she did agree to campaign. Sonia gave her first major speech on January 11 near the site of her husbands assassination.

More details
Profile: Sonia the reluctant politician
Background: the Gandhi dynasty
Campaign: Sonia gives first speech

It's the economy stupid

The likely failure of any party to produce a majority government could lead to further instability and wavering on key issues like economic reform.

A BJP government could see greater hostility to inward foreign investment and the liberalisation of import criteria for consumer goods. But the main fear would be that it would destabilise Indian society and politics, by fuelling communal tension between India's majority Hindu population and its 120 million Muslims.

Congress' candidate for Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, a former finance minister (1991-1996), is known for his promotion of economic reform and strong anti-corruption credentials,

One candidate for prime minister from the United Front is Jyoti Basu, Marxist chief minister of West Bengal for two decades who has proved adept at attracting foreign investment to his state.

More details
Background: Economy in transition

Wider concerns

Correspondents say a BJP government remains the most likely outcome. Although it has proved to be more moderate in government than in opposition, the fear remains that the party would destabilise Indian society and politics, by fuelling communal tension between India's majority Hindu population and its 120 million Muslims.

Tensions with Pakistan could also worsen. The BJP has in the past emphasised the need to develop India's nuclear potential.

BJP makes nuclear commitment

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