Elections in the States

A voter holds out her inked index finger after voting

In a few weeks from now, five Indian states will vote to elect new state governments. One of the five is Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state. In this Special Report, let’s understand how state elections work and why these are important.

What are state elections?

MPs work out of Parliament House in Delhi

Living in India, we see two kinds of elections:

  • One is the national or general election where voters across the country cast their votes to elect the central government which runs India from Delhi. All those elected become part of the Indian Parliament as members of the Lok Sabha. They are called MPs (Members of Parliament).
  • State elections are held to select governments that will manage states. Those elected will become part of the State Legislative Assemblies. They are called MLAs (Members of Legislative Assemblies).

In both cases, political parties with the majority of MLAs or MPs form the government in the state/centre.

When do these elections happen?

Both central and state elections are held every five years. But sometimes, elections may be held sooner if a government has lost its majority position and does not have the support of the required number of MPs or MLAs. This is why all states don’t have elections at the same time and we see elections happening every 2-3 years for a group of states.

Who will go to vote now?

Elections in five states will be held between February 4 and March 8 and the results will be declared in all the states by March 11. In Uttar Pradesh (UP), the elections or polls will be held on seven dates, each in a different area. This will help the Election Commission (the body which is in charge of running elections in India) monitor each small area closely and ensure political parties obey the rules.

Uttar Pradesh (UP)


This is the most important state for political parties with over 400 MLAs to be elected. With so many voters, the UP elections are expected to show which political parties are being favoured by the Indian voter.

Mayawati hopes to become Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh

Players: The state is now being ruled by the Samajwadi Party. This time it is expected to face a tough fight from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) whose leader Mayawati hopes to become the Chief Minister of UP.   The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which runs the central government is the third main player in UP.


punjabFor ten years the state has been ruled by the BJP and its partner called the Shiromani Akali Dal. One of the India’s richer states, Punjab is struggling with a massive drug problem. Many people from the state are using harmful chemicals (drugs) and they have become addicted (this means they cannot live without consuming drugs) to them. The people of Punjab may be looking for a government which can get rid of this problem when they go to vote on February 4.

Arvind Kejriwal (centre) of the AAP tries out a turban-will he rule Punjab?
Arvind Kejriwal (centre) of the AAP tries out a turban-will he rule Punjab?

Players: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which runs Delhi believes that it can beat the current government. The Congress political party may also have a chance.






This tiny state in western India will vote on the same day as Punjab.

Players: The BJP rules the state now but it may be challenged by local parties who may take away some of its supporters.






uttarakhandThe hill state of Uttarakhand is one of the few states controlled by the Congress party and the entire state will vote on February 15.

Players: The BJP is expected to make a big play and take control from the Congress.





manipur1This north-eastern state will vote on March 4 and 8.


Irom Sharmila
Irom Sharmila

Players: The Congress is the strongest party here, though the BJP, which won the elections in neighbouring Assam last year, is expected to put up a very strong fight. Irom Sharmila’s decision to take part in the elections may also provide some excitement. Sharmila went on a record breaking fast to remove the state from the control of the army and recently announced that she would take part in the elections.

What’s at stake?

Thumbs up or down for Narendra Modi?

No matter what he says, Narendra Modi knows the BJP’s performandemoce in the election will reflect what the people of India think of his demonetization scheme. In November, Modi announced that the Rs.500 and Rs.1000 notes were being withdrawn immediately, forcing people to stand in bank queues for hours to pick up cash in other notes. Modi has been saying that his move was aimed at dishonest people who didn’t want to pay taxes but the fact is that a lot of honest people faced difficulties as banks struggled to give them cash.  Will they vote for his BJP? It remains to be seen.

AAP steps out 

The state elections are very important for the AAP which right now runs just one government in Delhi. With power at Delhi being shared with the central government run by the BJP (Delhi is unique among states in this way), the AAP is keen to take charge of a state that it can run on its own steam.

One hurrah for the Congress?

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has yet to notch up a major election victory
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has yet to notch up a major election victory

The Indian National Congress, which once won freedom for India and was the country’s largest party for years, is in quite a state. It hasn’t had a big election victory in many years, and holding on to Uttarakhand, Manipur and perhaps even winning Punjab is very, very important for the party.




What’s more important: the centre or the states?

India follows a federal form of government-this means that the central and state governments share responsibility in running the country. This isn’t a loose arrangement-the rights of each are laid out in the Constitution of India and cannot be changed easily. The Constitution of India is the rule book according to which the country has to be run.

The Constitution divides responsibilities into three lists:

India’s constitution provides a power sharing formula for the centre and states
India’s constitution provides a power sharing formula for the centre and states

The Union list, consisting of areas over which the centre has control, such defence, foreign affairs, railways, posts and telegraphs.

The State list, over which the state government has responsibility, and includes areas such as public health, education, agriculture.

The Concurrent list has areas where both central and state share power and this includes subjects such as education, forests and protection of wild animals.