The 2014 general election result has, not without reason, been called a landslide. With 282 Lok Sabha seats, which amount to a gain of no fewer than 166 seats from the 2009 election, the Bharatiya Janata Party has a majority of 11; it is assured of the passage of its legislative programme, and will have little need to make the usual compromises that go with coalition governments. Those would include giving partners plum Cabinet posts, trimming legislation and policy in return for support, and ensuring the allocation of Central government funds to the allies’ respective States. The incoming government’s leaders and supporters alike will, no doubt, also claim that the Indian electorate has given them a clear mandate to govern for the next five years. Among the victors’ most barbed comments is the remark that no other party has won enough seats even to form an official opposition. The biggest loser, obviously, has been the Indian National Congress, whose 206 seats in the previous Parliament have crashed to a mere 44; as observers might well reflect, how are the mighty fallen.

While the BJP win is beyond question, a little numerical analysis shows a more complex situation. The victory is founded on a vote-share of just under 31 per cent, and even on a record turnout of 66 per cent this means a little less than 19 per cent of the total electorate. Not just in this election but in past elections as well, under the simple-majority or first-past-the-post electoral system there has been no direct relation between votes cast and seats won; the disproportionality is particularly striking this time. The Congress, which now has 8 per cent of the Lok Sabha seats, won a 19.3 per cent vote-share, and would have won 105 seats according to the simplest formula for proportional electoral systems; the BJP would have won 169. For regional parties, the results are equally illuminating; in Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, now the third largest party in the Lok Sabha, won 37 of 39 seats on a State-based vote-share of 44.3 per cent and a national share of 3.3 per cent. Its main rival, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, won no seats at all but got nearly 27 per cent of the votes within the State — substantially more than the BJP-led NDA’s 18.5 per cent, which resulted in two parliamentary seats. Elsewhere, the Bahujan Samaj Party won no seats despite coming third nationally with 4.1 per cent of the vote, and the Shiv Sena won 18 seats on a 1.9 per cent vote-share. Arguments over electoral systems will continue, and the 2014 results raise questions about whether or not the formally and legitimately representative Lok Sabha represents in its composition the spread and range of voters’ support across the country.

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