The 2019 Elections in foreign publications

Mainstream media in India has extensively covered all phases of the election with a religious fervour, but how have the major foreign press agencies covered the world’s largest election?...

Mainstream media in India has extensively covered all phases of the election with a religious fervour, but how have the major foreign press agencies covered the world’s largest election?

Background

The 2019 Indian general election is currently being held in seven phases from 11 April to 19 May 2019 to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha. The counting of votes will be conducted on 23 May, and on the same day, the results will be declared. About 900 million Indian citizens are eligible to vote in one of the seven phases depending on the region.

Legislative Assembly elections in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim will be held simultaneously with the general election.

The elections are being held on schedule and per the constitution of India that mandates parliamentary elections once every five years. The details of the elections were announced by Election Commission of India (ECI) on 10 March 2019, after which Model Code of Conduct regulations for the elections came into immediate effect.

For decades, the sheer scale of India’s election has baffled foreign political analysts and commentators, and articles were written with a staple congratulatory tone for conducting such a massive democratic exercise. However, the foreign media has approached a more critical route since 2014 elections, largely due to a strong nationalist wave coursing through the country. How have they narrated India’s tryst with democracy this time? 

“Awe-inspiring”

Washington Post described the 2019 Elections as being “Very, very big. Held every five years, the elections are the largest democratic exercise in the world. With about 900 million eligible voters, the size of the electorate has swelled by more than 80 million compared to 2014.” In the 2014 election, 550 million people ultimately cast votes. While over 450 political parties contested the last election, only six are national parties that can claim a base of supporters across different states. The voting process will unfold at more than a million polling stations, each one overseen by a handful of election officials.

Washington Post also offered an interesting perspective with regards to India’s economic competition with China, stating “This election will be pivotal to the future of India, soon to become the world’s most populous nation. India is attempting to catch up in economic terms with China, its neighbor to the east, a pursuit that requires massive investment in infrastructure and significant policy change. At the same time, the country is also deciding what kind of democracy it wants to be, giving a hopeful tone to the future of the 900m+ electorate.

“Disappearing from voter registry”

Al-Jazeera, the state-run Qatari news agency took the freedom of critically analyzing the present government’s failure in enacting its electoral responsibilities. “The biggest election in the world is under way, and millions of names have been deleted from the electoral rolls. If you want to deny somebody the vote in India, you can ask the government to strip somebody from the voter list with just a name and a web connection. Is that why millions of Indians, many of them minorities, are being turned away from the polls - or are they just victims of bureaucracy?” 

“Where is the pollution agenda?”

The Doha-based agency hammered home the point of an ineffective government at the helm since 2014 by highlighting the curious lack of pollution as an agenda on party campaigns. “While a number of national issues, including issues of national security and economy, have been in the headlines throughout the ongoing elections, there is barely any discussion over the country's pollution crisis in the campaigns.

Despite the death toll from rising air pollution, Indian politicians seeking a place in India's 543-member lower house of parliament hardly ever talk about the deadly pollution around them in their campaign speeches.

Assessment

Our assessment is that this year’s elections have been a far easier target of criticism from foreign media outlets due to the rising religious tensions in the country as well as the Indo-Pak standoff in February 2019. We believe that despite the targeted criticisms, almost all foreign media agencies have had a unifying response: India’s election is a mammoth task and it is a testament to the strength of the country’s institution that such a large democratic exercise is held seamlessly over and over again.