Prime Minister Narendra Modi is looking at creating history at the hustings. If the counting trends hold (the BJP is leading in 287 seats as we write this), it will be the first time in 48 years that an incumbent prime minister heading a majority government is voting back with majority.
It is Modi who first flagged this milestone at the Amit Shah's press conference at the BJP headquarters on 17 May at the end of election campaigning. While expressing confidence that his government would return to power with a full majority, Modi said it would be as big a milestone in India's electoral history as his victory in 2014. That year, when the BJP won 282 seats in the Lok Sabha, it was the first time in three decades that any party had acquired an absolute majority. "It is after a long time that a majority government, after completing its full five-year term, will again attain a victory. This will be a very significant event," Modi remarked.
Trends show the BJP is poised to better that tally, clocking 288 leads at the time of going to press.
The prime minister also added that after a long time, a government would be formed resulting from a clear choice made by the electorate, rather than some pre-poll or post-poll alliance or understanding. That prophecy also seems to be holding.
Modi is right. Our quick research based on data from the official Lok Sabha website showed that if both his predictions hold " that the BJP will be voted back and that it will be voted back with a full majority " then this victory will be a bigger milestone than 2014.
If Modi returns to power with a full majority on 23 May, it will be for the first time in 48 years that an incumbent prime minister and his party return to power with a full majority. The last time this happened was in 1971, when Indira Gandhi led the Congress (R) to victory with a full majority after having done the same in 1967 (for the united Congress).
Since Independence, we have had 16 Lok Sabha elections. The ongoing one is for electing the 17th Lok Sabha. The first election was held in 1951-52. The legacy of the freedom movement and Jawaharlal Nehru's stature helped the Congress get a clear majority for three consecutive terms (1952, 1957, 1962). Following Nehru's death, Lal Bahadur Shastri was the prime minister till his sudden demise in January 1966. Subsequently, Nehru's daughter Indira Gandhi also managed to get a clear majority for two consecutive terms in 1967 and 1971, and then in 1980.
In 1984, the Congress party repeated its success of 1980, but with a different prime minister " Rajiv Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi was voted out in 1989.
There have been two more instances of a prime minister being returned to power in successive elections " Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999 and Manmohan Singh in 2009. However, in both cases, the BJP and Congress had to rely on the support of allies to cross the halfway mark in the Lok Sabha.
Here is a ready reckoner of all elections held in India since 1951-52, sourced from the official Lok Sabha website.
Majority Governments: 1952- 1971 and 1984.
1st Lok Sabha Elections, 1951-52: Congress won 398 out of 543 seats under Nehru's leadership.
2nd Lok Sabha Elections: The Congress under Nehru won 395 out of 537 seats.
3rd Lok Sabha Elections, 1962: Nehru repeated the feat with 394 out of 540 seats for the Congress.
4th Lok Sabha Elections, 1967: Under Indira Gandhi's leadership, the Congress won 303 seats out of 553.
5th Lok Sabha Elections, 1971: In November 1969, the Congress was split into Congress-R (the ruling wing) and Congress-O (the organisational wing). Congress-R represented by Indira Gandhi got a clear two-thirds majority, with 372 out of 553 seats. This was the last time an outgoing government with a majority in the Lok Sabha was voted back with a majority under the same prime minister.
6th Lok Sabha Elections, 1977: The fifth Lok Sabha term ended in 1976. But elections were held in 1977 after Indira Gandhi lifted the Emergency, which she imposed in 1975. In this election, the Janata Party won 302 seats out of 557. However, the government could not last long, and had two prime ministers in two years. Fresh elections were held in 1980.
7th Lok Sabha Elections, 1980: Congress storms to power with 377 seats out of 566.
8th Lok Sabha Elections, 1984: In October 1984, Indira Gandhi was assassinated, and riding on a sympathy wave, son Rajiv Gandhi won 426 seats out of 567 for the Congress.
Minority governments, 1989-2014
The 1984 election was the last election wherein a single party won a majority in the Lok Sabha. From 1989 to 2014, all governments were coalition regimes.
9th Lok Sabha Elections, 1989: The Congress emerged as the single largest party with 195 out of 534 seats. Rajiv Gandhi preferred not to stake claim for government formation. A minority National Front government was formed with VP Singh as prime minister. The government lasted for just one year. Two other prime ministers " Charan Singh and Chandrashekhar " followed before elections were called again.
10th Lok Sabha elections, 1991: Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in the middle of the election. The Congress won 252 seats. PV Narasimha Rao led a minority government and completed the full term, a first for a minority government.
11th Lok Sabha, 1996: The BJP, with Atal Bihari Vajpayee as its prime ministerial candidate, emerged as the single largest party with 163 seats. The Congress got 140 seats. The hung Parliament resulted in three prime ministers " Vajpayee, for 13 days, Deve Gowda and IK Gujral " in two years, forcing another mid-term election in 1998.
12th Lok Sabha Election, 1998: The BJP got 183 seats and formed a minority government with Vajpayee as prime minister. But when Jayalalithaa pulled out in 1999, it was time for elections again.
13th Lok Sabha Elections, 1999: The BJP emerged as the single largest party with 189 seats, but fell short of the majority mark. The party formed the government with its pre-poll allies. Vajpayee led the coalition government.
14th Lok Sabha elections, 2004: The Congress emerged as the largest single party with 159 seats and formed the government with Manmohan Singh as the prime minister with help of pre-poll allies.
15th Lok Sabha, 2009: The Congress projected Manmohan Singh as its prime ministerial candidate. The party improved its tally from 159 in 2004 to 211, perhaps the first instance of an incumbent prime minister leading a minority government getting a big leg-up (before him, Vajpayee could increase the BJP's seat count by only six).
16th Lok Sabha, 2014: The BJP won 282 seats with Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. This was the first time since 1984 that a single party won a majority in the Lok Sabha on its own.
Editor's note: A version of this article was originally published on 18 May.