What electoral system does India use to elect the Lok Sabha?

Thea Ridley-Castle, Research and Policy Officer

Posted on the 29th September 2022

India, the largest democracy in the world, has a system of democratic federalism which has both large amounts of parties and Westminster-style First Past the Post (FPTP) voting.

The Indian Federal government is made up of a lower house elected with First Past the Post, the Lok Sabha, and an upper chamber elected by the legislatures of the states via the Single Transferable Vote, the Rajya Sabha. Like nearly all countries that use First Past the Post today, the system was a legacy of Britain’s colonial rule.

With over 912 million people eligible to vote, India’s General elections are the second most expensive elections in the world, beaten only by America. The vote is conducted over a number of days due to the size and scale of the election with voters and voting officials travelling miles in order to conduct the election.

In 2019 this system saw 37 parties enter the Lok Sabha (Lower House) – challenging the idea that First Past the Post will always deliver two-party systems, such as those seen in the UK and the US. However; whilst there are a large number of parties in the Lok Sabha, it cannot be said that FPTP has delivered a form of proportional representation for India.

Firstly, the distribution of seats for the Lok Sabha is not relative to India’s current population density, some seats have far more people in them than others. The distribution of seats across states is based on the linguistic division of states laid out in the States Reorganisation Act 1956. States based on linguistic divisions were decided upon as it was seen to be a unique signifier of similarities of cultural and social affiliations allowing for more people to participate in state governance and ease communication in governance. Unlike states in the USA or Germany, which have relatively fixed borders, there have been several iterations of states and state boundaries since 1956, at present there are 29 states and 7 union territories in India.

The chart below shows the state-wise representation of members of the Lok Sabha and the population of each state. Madhya Pradesh for instance is the 5th most populous state, but it has the 6th most constituencies. This shows a discrepancy between the population and the seats allocated within Lok Sabha.

State-wise representation of Lok Sabha members


The Indian constitution states that the distribution of seats should be revised after every census to ensure even representation; however, due to the 1976 amendment, the revisions were delayed until 2001 and still have not been recalculated. By 2031 the population figures used to allot parliamentary seats to each state will be six decades old. McMillian noted that the redistribution of seats from the 2001 census would have seen Tamil Nadu have 7 fewer Lok Sabha seats, while Uttar Pradesh gain 7 more. The table below shows an estimate of the discrepancy between population and state seat share projected forward to 2026.

The discrepancy between seat share and state population projected until 2026

State Current seats Proportional seats (2011) Over- and Under- representation (2011) Proportional seats (2026) Over- and Under- representation (2026)
Tamil Nadu 39 32 +7 31 +8
Andhra Pradesh + Telangana 42 37 +5 34 +8
Kerala 20 15 +5 12 +8
Odisha 21 18 +3 18 +3
West Bengal 42 40 +2 38 +4
Karnataka 28 27 +1 26 +2
Himachal Pradesh 4 3 +1 3 +1
Punjab 13 12 +1 12 +1
Uttarakhand 5 4 +1 4 +1
Assam 14 14 0 14 0
Jammu + Kashmir 6 6 0 6 0
Chhattisgarh 11 11 0 12 -1
Delhi 7 7 0 8 -1
Maharashtra 48 49 -1 48 0
Gujarat 26 27 -1 27 -1
Haryana 10 11 -1 11 -1
Jharkhand 14 15 -1 15 -1
Madhya Pradesh 29 32 -3 33 -4
Rajasthan 25 30 -5 31 -6
Bihar 40 46 -6 50 -10
Uttar Pradesh 80 88 -8 91 -11

Source: https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/03/14/india-s-emerging-crisis-of-representation-pub-78588

Moreover, India has seen a seat vs vote share mismatch at all levels of its federal system. Looking at the Lok Sabha Elections Results of 2014 the vote/seat share discrepancies are noticeable in the top two national parties. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with 31% of vote share has secured 52% of seats (an excess of 114 seats from a PR situation). On the contrary, the Congress Party with 19% of vote share got 8% of seats (61 seats less from a PR situation).

2019 Indian general election

In the Uttar Pradesh state assembly election in 2012, the Samajawadi Party (SP) with 29% of votes won 224 seats out of a total of 403 (an excess of 107 seats from PR situation), whereas the BSP with 26% votes could manage to win only 80 seats.

Following on from the vote share vs seat share mismatch, Dunleavy and Diwakarnoted that India bucks the trend of FPTP countries with regional or local parties winning or dominating local voting; however, these parties are usually affiliated with the ‘main blocs’ (BJP and Congress). Therefore, whilst these smaller parties gain prominence in states, they do not have a lot of influence in the Lok Sabha.

Due to the above-outlined issues with the Indian voting system including disproportionate seat allocation per state, the warping results of First Past the Post on the seat share and minimisation of smaller party influence at country level due to the increasing polarisation of the ‘main blocs’ it will struggle to represent the population. It is also a good lesson that you can’t impose a voting system on a country and assume it will have the same results as it did back home.

Enjoy this article? Support the work of the ERS

Join today

Read more posts...