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Mapping continuities and changes in Indian Democracy

9:30 AM-12:00 PM, 17th December

(Invitation Only)

Chair: Yamini Aiyar

Presentations by: Neelanjan Sircar, Rahul Verma

What future does the 2019 general elections hold for India’s democracy? A consensus seems to have emerged among the academics, journalists and policy makers that the results of the 2014 elections marked a critical phase in Indian democracy. Thus, the attention on the 2019 elections has been even more marked than usual and its run up have already generated heated discussions. As the election season gains momentum, researchers and observers of Indian politics face the formidable task of interpreting and analysing each election as an event in itself, and its effect on India’s democratic trajectory in the long term. In these polarised times when debates on politics have become increasingly partisan, building a research agenda to understand the rapidly evolving democratic politics in India have become even more critical.

The highly predictable Indian politics of 1950s due to the national and state-level dominance of the Congress party gave rise to a fragmented and competitive political system in the post-emergency period in the succeeding decades. The Other Backward Classes (OBCs) mobilized to form significant political forces. By 1990s, these regional parties had captured a significant enough proportion of the electorate to act as kingmakers in coalition governments at the Centre. Alongside, the Election Commission of India (ECI) began to play a crucial role in ensuring free and fair elections. The turbulent 1990s were marked by coalition governments and the hot-button issues of mandir, mandal and market, followed by a period of greater electoral stability in the 2000s. Yet despite the quickly changing nature of Indian politics, analysts often clung to outdated tropes to characterize the electorate.

In the past few decades, both India and its voters have undergone profound changes. While the objective indicators of income and infrastructure may not fully reflect this transformation, but the pace of change in some sectors have been phenomenal by the standards of a developing country. This has had significant electoral consequences. The scale of BJP’s victory in the 2014 election came as a surprise to many observers of Indian politics, necessitating an examination of the “changing” Indian voter. The electoral consequences of increased access to both traditional and new media, a burgeoning middle class, a rise of the ‘floating voters’ – unaffiliated yet politically active citizens – and more connected migration networks, are still poorly understood.

As a response to these changes, researchers at CPR have undertaken a series of rigorous studies to understand the changing dynamics of the electoral environment in India. Specifically, the research aims to study the electoral preferences by juxtaposing field work with data analysis of electoral, census and survey data. In recent years, CPR faculty have produced a series of qualitative assessments of the electoral scenario in Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Karnataka, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal in series of working papers, as well as a number of influential data analyses that have been published in The Hindu, Hindustan Times, and Indian Express.At present we are engaged in studying the ongoing election in five states - Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, and Telangana.

This event will focus on highlighting some of the findings from recent CPR research and also lay out the broader agenda of our research programme, with presentations from CPR faculty Neelanjan Sircar and Rahul Verma. The idea behind this discussion is to generate a framework to understand the transitions that have/or are taking place within Indian politics. Will 2019 follow the trajectory that began five years ago, and India will enter into a stable second-dominant party system, or will it reverse the path? In either case, what changes and continuities this moment would generate? The aim of this discussion is to contextualize the broader implications of changing Indian politics on the future and nature of democratic politics in the country.