Trends in Lok Sabha elections

A lot has changed in the 60+ years since our first elections. To begin with, the number of voters has gone up almost consistently, year on year – which is to be expected given population growth. However,.in 1991 there is a notable dip in the number of voters, despite a growth in population. The voter turnout dropped from 62% in 1989 to 57% in 1991 (, PDF).


The number of candidates, however, shows a different trend. Between 1977 to 1996, there was a marked, even exponential growth in the number of candidates, leading to almost 14,000 candidates contesting in 1996 – approximately 26 candidates in each constituency, partly due to the deluge of candidates in Belgaum and Nalgonda. Post 1996, the election commission revised the deposit amount from Rs 500 to Rs 25,000, and the numbers dropped to a more reasonable 9 candidates per constituency, though in 2009, this has again risen to 15 candidates. Perhaps, given inflation, it may be time for the ECI to increase the deposit amount again.

Candidates per constituency

Among these candidates, the percentage of women has generally shown a steady increase, especially starting from 1991. (The ECI data for 1951 does not have gender data.) It’s grown from about 3% to nearly 7% now – but is still a relatively low number.

Women candidates

With the growth in number of candidates, one might expect that the winner’s share of votes might decline. Here’s what the distribution of the winner’s vote share looks like.

Winner share

The highest was P L Handoo of NC who won at Anantnag in 1989 with over 36,000 votes. The nearest competitor, Abdul Rashid Khan, got 186 votes. On the other hand, P K Khanna of INC won at Shahjahanpur in 1967 with 40,000 votes out of 2.4 lakh votes – less than 17% of the electorate!

Given the winner-take-all nature of nature of the Indian elections, the winning party need not have a majority of the seats. Below is the % of seats the winning party has won.

Winner seatshare

Since 1989, the winning party has never received 50% of the number of seats, and in every occasion, has been forced to form a coalition with another party.

In contrast, if we look at the winning party’s vote share (the number of votes they received as a % of total voters), the trend is not as bad. The numbers have been only slightly under 50%, and always above 40%, since 1989. In fact, the situation was worse in 1951 and 1957, when the Congress was in power with a less than 40% vote share.Winner voteshare

Let’s take a look at both of these together, and see how representative and powerful the various Indian governments have been.

Voteshare Seatshare

We can almost cleanly segregate the elections into three phases:

Voteshare Seatshare Q1In the first phase, between 1951 – 1967, the seat share was over 50%, indicating that the winning party (Congress, in this case) had the power to pass legislation.

However, the voteshare was less than 50%, i.e. more than half the population had voted for a party other than Congress, and in that sense, the Government was not fully representative of the voters.

Voteshare Seatshare Q2The second phase, between 1971 – 1984 was both powerful and representative. The seat share was over 50%, giving the government power to legislate. The vote share was also over 50%, i.e. more than half the voters had voted for the single largest party.

In this phase, except for 1977 when Janata Party was in power, the Congress was in power across the years.

Voteshare Seatshare Q3In this third and current phase of the elections, the winning party is generally neither representative nor powerful.

In every year, the seat share has been under 50%, meaning that the winning party cannot form the Government alone; and, except in 1989, the winning party has received less than 50% of the public vote.

All the above data was sourced from the Election Commission website. You can explore the data visually at

The wealth of candidates

The Association for Democratic Reforms has analysed the affidavits of around 3,300 candidates so far, and tabulated their assets. Here’s a glimpse of the net assets of all candidates. The size of each box represents the assets of the candidates. The colour represents the party they belong to.

Nandan Nilekani’s wealth, at Rs 7,710 cr, is rather striking. His wealth is more than the net assets of the next two hundred candidates. Put another way, his assets are more than those of every other Congress candidate, BJP candidate, independent candidate, BSP candidate, JD(U) candidate and AAP candidate put together.

Since Nandan skews the picture considerably, let’s remove him and look at the rest.

We see several prominent figures emerge. Anil Kumar Sharma of JD(U), who is contesting in Jahanabad, is the second wealthiest with net assets of over Rs 740 cr. Naveen Jindal of Congress, contesting at Kurukshetra, is the third, with net assets of over Rs 300 cr. Malook Nagar of BSP, contesting at Bijnoor, is next with Rs 286 cr.

But let’s look at a typical candidate. The median wealth of a candidate is approximately Rs 27-28 lakhs. Anil Kumar of AAP, contesting at Jaipur Rural is a representative example, with net assets of Rs 28 lakhs. His wealth breaks up as follows.

If we move up a notch and start looking at the least wealthy of the 871 candidates with net assets over Rs 1 crore, Janardan Mishra of BJP contesting at Rewa is first on our list. His assets break up as follows:

The bulk of the wealth is from 39 acres of agricultural land, whose value is estimated at the conveniently round number of Rs 1 crore.

Umed Singh of BSP, contesting at Shahjahanpur UP,  has net assets worth Rs 10 crores. Here’s the break-up. As with other candidates, the bulk of the wealth is in property.

Between them, the candidates own around Rs 18,000 crores of assets. These are staggering figures. To put them in perspective, here’s a sense of how much money this is.

1 lakh is fairly small. You can hold a bundle worth Rs 1 lakh easily in your hand if it’s in 1,000 rupee notes. (These dimensions are based on the RBI specs for the Mahatma Gandhi series of notes. A Rs 1,000 note is 177mm x 73mm x 0.11mm). It weighs around 116 grams, and can be easily carried around.

Rs 10 lakhs is a little bulkier. It’s approximately the size of a stack of A4 sheets, or a large format book – about 14” x 14” x 0.4”. It weighs over a kg, but can still be comfortably carried around. In fact, Rs 10 lakhs can be carried in a person’s pockets without much discomfort.

If we place 10 such stacks one above another, we get a Rs 1 crore stack. This is 14” x 14” x 4”, about the size of a jewel box. It’s quite heavy, though – about 12 kg – which makes it a bit difficult to carry easily.

Rs 10 crores is can be packed in a large suitcase. At 3’ x 2.5’ x 8” and 116 kg it is difficult for most people to carry. If placed in a car, it can cause the wheels to compress a bit.

Rs 100 crores is about the size of a bed. At 6’ x 5’ x 1’8”, you can wrap all the currency inside a rather tall bed, and leave no one the wiser if you didn’t want it to be found. However, it does weigh over 1 tonne.

Rs 1,000 crores can fill half a room of dimensions 12’ x 10’ to a height of 4’2”. It weighs 11 tonnes. At this point, the volume of wealth is higher than any candidate other than Nandan Nilekani’s. (So even if the candidates had their entire property in cash, it would fit comfortably in their living rooms, or in their garage.)

Finally, Rs 10,000  crores would take up 36’ x 30’ x 4’7” – roughly filling up a small apartment. This is roughly half of the wealth of all of the candidates if added up.

Hopefully, some of this will be used responsibly during the current elections.

Pro and anti incumbencies

If there’s an award for consistency, there’s only one constituency that would win that award: Chhindwara in Madhya Pradesh.  In every single election since India’s independence, the constituency has voted for the Indian National Congress. That’s a record that no other constituency holds, though Nandurbar and Sangli in Maharashtra have also voted only for Congress since their inception in 1962 and 1967 respectively.

Since its emergence in the 1980s, some constituencies have exclusively voted for BJP, and have remained BJP strongholds.

BJP Bastions

The 8 constituencies that have voted for BJP in each of the last 7 elections are Jhalawar in Rajasthan, Vidisha, Indore, Damoh, Bhopal and Bhind in Madhya Pradesh, and Surat and Gadhinagar in Gujarat.

In contrast with these strongholds, there are some constituencies that have strong anti-incumbent tendencies. First among these is Bara Banki in Uttar Pradesh. In every election since 1957, Bara Banki has voted against the incumbent. Gauhati in Assam and Monghyr in Bihar have a similar record, though they have both had only 13 elections so far.


Explore these visuals and more at