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Why do Indians vote?

India's political institutions are buckling, yet voting and standing for political office are more popular than ever in the world's largest democracy. As India goes to the polls again, Sunil Khilnani asks why its electoral behaviour conforms to none of the western models

By Sunil Khilnani   May 1996

There have been many efforts to explain why Indians vote as they do: package tours through India’s castes, religions and languages seek to explain the pattern of democratic politics. But the more basic question-why do Indians vote at all?-is rarely asked. It is worth a moment’s reflection, as an electorate of 590m goes to the polls over the next few weeks (the country’s hottest) for the 11th general election since 1947.

There are many disincentives for the individual voter. Parliamentary constituencies are huge-there are only 545 seats for a population of 900m. (While the electorate has grown from 173m in…

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