A polling station in Bengaluru, formerly known as Bangalore, during the 2009 elections in India. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Al Jazeera English/Nilanjan Chowdhury (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Freedom House Rating
Free (except for Indian Kashmir, which is rated Not Free)
Federal Parliamentary Republic
Bihar State Elections and By-Elections in 14 State Legislative Assemblies
October 28, November 3 and November 7, 2020
Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal
Due in 2021
State Elections in Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat,
Due in 2022-2023
By May 19, 2024
Delhi State Elections
February 8, 2020
State elections in Haryana, Maharashtra, and Jharkhand
General Elections (Parliament, plus state elections in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, and Sikkim)
April 11-May 19, 2019
India’s Bihar State will hold elections to its Legislative Assembly between October 28 and November 7, 2020. Additionally, 14 states will hold by-elections to fill 64 seats in 14 state legislative assemblies. As policy analyst Aditi Dayal notes: “These will be the largest voting exercise globally since the COVID-19 pandemic began.”
After that, five other states (Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal) are due to hold Legislative Assembly elections in 2021.
India has 29 states and seven union territories that all hold state elections at different times. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pushing to institute “one nation, one election” – a proposal to hold state elections at the same time as elections to the Lok Sabha, India’s federal parliament. Critics say the plan is a part of a pattern to centralize power, and moreover accuse Modi of authoritarianism.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a massive victory in the 2019 elections to the Lok Sabha. Those elections gave BJP a second term in power as the majority party able to govern without coalition partners, in an increasingly polarized political climate. The main opposition social democratic Congress Party – India’s oldest party – has done well in a series of state elections but is reeling from the whiplash of defeat in the Lok Sabha polls.
Bihar is India’s third-largest state by population (over 104 million people). It is also one of India’s poorest states, although it has seen some improvement in recent years. The current government in Bihar is the National Democratic Alliance, a BJP-led coalition. The biggest party is the Janata Dal (United), a center-left party mostly active in northeastern and eastern India.
In total, 14 states are holding by-elections in November. The only state where control of the assembly could possibly change hands is Madhya Pradesh, where 28 seats are up for grabs. However, Congress would have to win all 28 seats in order to gain control of the legislature, and that is not likely to happen.
On the other hand, the by-elections could provide insight into the political climate ahead of upcoming state elections.
In 2021, five states are due to hold elections: Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal. Voters will elect members of each state’s Legislative Assembly.
India’s tensions with both China and Pakistan are growing. Since May 2020, a long-standing border dispute has grown hot, and shots have been fired.
Tensions are also rising between India and Pakistan. In a surprise geopolitical development, on August 5, 2019, the Modi government made a unilateral decision to strip the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir of its autonomy. The region, which is majority Muslim, is claimed by both India and Pakistan and has sparked three wars. For seventy years, the Indian-controlled part – established as the state of Jammu and Kashmir – enjoyed a high degree of autonomy, but Modi announced that the state would be downgraded into two union territories, effectively centralizing control. The area has been on virtual lockdown for over a year, and many have been detained, including prominent political leaders.
Meanwhile, Pakistan is taking steps to incorporate the part of Kashmir it administers – Gilgit-Baltistan – more fully into the Pakistani state, infuriating India.
Ravi S Singh, Tribune India (October 8, 2020): Farmers’ unions to campaign for BJP’s defeat in Bihar Assembly elections
Aditi Dayal, The Diplomat (September 28, 2020): Upcoming Regional Polls in India a Litmus Test for the BJP and the Opposition Alike
Swati Gupta and Nectar Gan, CNN (September 8, 2020): China and India accuse each other of firing shots as border tensions escalate
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Updated October 18, 2020