Election Commission of India (ECI), Elections, LS Elections, Stories

Data: Independents won Less Than 10 Seats in Each of the Last Eight Lok Sabha Elections


All the datasets related to the 1st to the 17th Lok Sabha Elections (from 1951 to 2019) are available on Dataful.

Independent Candidates won an average of more than 30 Seats in each of the first four Lok Sabha elections. However, with each passing Lok Sabha elections, the ability of Independents to win has decreased significantly. Even on the vote share front, their vote share decreased from average of 15% in the first four Lok Sabha elections to less than 5% in the last four Lok Sabha elections.

Election season is flooded with debates on whether people vote for a party, for a candidate, or both. In the absence of political affiliations, potential candidates face significant barriers in their electoral process, right from money, media, and message. To this extent, Political Parties have largely been dominant in the Indian Parliamentary system since independence. With changing electoral scenarios, and growing personalization of politics, individual candidates sometimes trump the party affiliations, as it can be seen in the re-election of defectors.

Yet, the political importance of independent candidates remains a hugely contested subject. Questions on how independent candidates impact the quality of electoral processes and the cloning of major party candidates by fielding independents, often linger around during the election seasons. We have observed in the Karnataka Assembly Elections, 2023, where a clone name of a major party candidate could possibly impact an electoral outcome. 

With this context, and keeping in mind the upcoming 2024 Lok Sabha election, we look at the independent candidates in Indian Parliamentary elections. Factly’s earlier story on a similar topic with some recommendations can be read here.

Significant rise in the number of independent candidates, while the share out of total is reduced.

The Election Commission of India (ECI) classifies the contesting candidates based on their party identification- National, State, Unrecognized but registered party, and independent candidates. Each identification is done based on an already existing objective criteria. Independent candidates are those who do not have any affiliation with any political party.

The data on the profile of political candidates show that there is a proliferation of independent candidates, up from 533 in 1951, to reaching the highest in 1996, with 10,636 independent candidates. Interestingly, 1996 was also the year in which the security deposits of candidates rose from Rs. 500 to Rs. 10,000 for Lok Sabha. It was during the 1996 Lok Sabha elections that two constituencies had more than 400 contesting candidates each. In both Nalgonda (from then Andhra Pradesh), and Belgaum (Karnataka), more than 400 candidates contested the Lok Sabha elections. 

Post 1996, the number of independent candidates fell significantly, accounting for 1915 candidates in the 1998 elections. Thereafter, there is a consistent rise in independent candidates till 2009, with 3831 candidates. In 2009, the security deposits were further rose from Rs.10,000 to Rs. 25,000. Post 2009, the number of independent candidates fell marginally, reaching 3461 in the 2019 elections. 

In terms of the percentage out of the total, independent candidates accounted for an average of 32% from 1951 to 1971 elections. After the imposition of emergency, and restoration of democratic processes till 1984, their average share accounted for 61%. This further rose to 67% till the 1996 elections. Post-1996 elections, and till 2009, their share fell significantly to 43%. This further reduced to 41% post-2009 elections. 

Among all the elections, independent candidates accounted for 76% of the total, their highest ever, in the 1996 elections. That is, 3 out of 4 candidates, were independents in the 1996 elections.

Vote share of independent candidates joint second lowest in 2019.

Independent candidates represent a political alternative to the voters to show their disenchantment with the political parties. However, the current age of politics blurred the lines between independent candidates and dummy candidates. Many candidates are often fielded just to prove a point, an example being the 2019 Lok Sabha elections to the Nizamabad constituency, where 178 out of 185 candidates were farmers, in support of their demand for Turmeric board.

The data regarding the proportion of votes polled by independent candidates out of all valid votes indicates a decline in the vote share of independent candidates. The share dwindled from 15.9% in 1951 to a low of 2.4% in 1998. In 2019, it reached 2.7%, the second lowest tied with 1999. This decline in independent candidates’ vote share reflects public disinterest, despite the increase in their numbers indicating political pluralism. Nevertheless, despite their low numbers, independents can potentially be ‘game-changers’.

Success rate of independent candidates is diminishingly low.

Electoral success often depends on a multitude of factors- starting from the campaign to the candidate profile. The incentive to participate in the electoral process for an independent candidate is already low, given the party-dominated politics in Indian elections and the lack of resources. In such scenarios, the success rate of independent candidates is bound to be very low.

Data shows that the success rates of independent candidates fell considerably from 6.9% in 1951 to 0.12% in 2019. On the flip side, the success rates of candidates from political parties fell from 33.7% to 11.7% during the same period, largely on account of hundreds of new parties contesting elections. In 2019, only four independents won, one each from Assam, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Dadra & Nagar Haveli. 

99.5% of independent candidates lost their deposits in 2019.

The Representation of People Act, 1951, mandates candidates to deposit a fixed amount to contest in elections, for Lok Sabha, it’s Rs 25,000; and for Assembly, Rs 10,000 for all general candidates. If the candidate gets less than one-sixth of valid votes, they lose the deposit. This means the Election Commission doesn’t refund the money.

While it is normal for wins and losses in electoral processes, losing elections without even securing a deposit is the last thing any contesting candidate wishes for. It is also a matter of pride for candidates. Independent candidates have higher probabilities of both losing, as well as losing without securing deposits, while candidates with party affiliations have higher probabilities for securing deposits, even in cases of defeat.

Data on this aspect shows that almost 99.5% of the independent candidates lost their deposits in 2019, up from 67.6% in 1951. Only in the first four general elections, from 1951 to 1967, the percentage of independent candidates forfeiting their deposits averaged at 75%, which further rose considerably, averaging 98.7% till 2019.


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