Home / Politics / Policy /  The explainer: Uncontested elections

It is rare in a democracy as complex as India’s for a candidate to be declared elected unopposed in parliamentary or assembly elections. But right from the first general election in 1951, there have been a few cases of candidates being elected unopposed.

What is an uncontested election?

The Election Commission of India, in its handbook for returning officers, has important details about “unopposed returns". It says: “If in any constituency there is only one contesting candidate, declare that candidate to have been duly elected immediately after the last hour for withdrawal of candidature. In that event, a poll is not necessary."

Why do uncontested elections happen?

The decision to contest the elections or withdraw from the race is totally a personal decision of the candidate. But possible reasons for withdrawing from a contest may include lack of campaign funds or even in some cases, persuasion from the party. If the candidate is a party rebel (a common phenomenon in Maharashtra), the party tries to pacify him by promising him a berth in the cabinet should it get elected. In some cases, parties also resort to announcing what is now known as a “dummy" candidate, a tactical decision to keep the opposition guessing, while announcing a stronger challenger before the nomination deadline ends. Rather bizarrely, uncontested elections are a tradition in some parts of India in state elections. Arunachal Pradesh is a case in point—the former chief minister Dorjee Khandu won elected unopposed thrice from Mukto (1990, 2004, 2009). His son, Pema Khandu also won uncontested from the seat in a by-election (2011) after his father’s death before repeating the feat in 2014.

How often does this happen?

Uncontested election wins have been a phenomenon since the time India elected its first parliament in 1951-52. In all, there have been 23 Lok Sabha candidates who have won their respective seats uncontested. In 1951, when India had double-member constituencies (before it was abolished in 1961), five members of parliament (MPs)—Anand Chand (Bilaspur), T.A. Ramalingam Chettiar (Coimbatore), Major Gen. H.S. Himmasinhji (Halar, Saurashtra), T. Sangana (Rayagada-Phulbani) and Krishna Charya Joshi (Yadgir, Hyderabad) were elected uncontested from their respective seats. Subsequently in 1957, another five candidates were elected uncontested—Mangrubabu Uike (Mandla, Madhya Pradesh), H.J. Siddananjappa (Hassan, Mysore), D. Satyanarayana Raju (Rajahmundhary, Andhra Pradesh), Sangam Laxmi Bai (Viccarabad, Andhra Pradesh) and Bijoy Chandra Bhagawati (Darrang, Assam). The number came down in 1962, when only three Lok Sabha members won uncontested. Among them was former finance minister T.T. Krishnamachari who won from Tiruchendur in Madras state. The other two uncontested winners from 1962 included Harekrushna Mahtab (Angul, Odisha) and Manabendra Shah (Tehri Garhwal, Uttar Pradesh).

Keeping the trend alive, five members were elected to the Lok Sabha in 1967, including two from Jammu and Kashmir. M.S. Qureshi won from Anantnag while Kushok Bakula Rinpoche, one of the leading lamas of Ladakh, was elected uncontested to the fourth Lok Sabha. Former chief minister of Nagaland and former Union minister S.C. Jamir became the state’s first Lok Sabha MP when he won uncontested in 1967 on a Nagaland Nationalist Organization (NNO) ticket. R. Brahma, who was Kokrajhar’s first MP to the Lok Sabha also won his elections uncontested. In 1971, there was only one instance of an uncontested win, which went to Padanatha Mohammad Sayeed, from Lakshadweep. Six years later, one of Arunachal Pradesh’s earliest MPs in the Lok Sabha, Rinchin Khandu Khimre of the Congress won uncontested, while Sikkim’s first Lok Sabha MP, Chhatra Bahadur Chhetri, was also a beneficiary of an uncontested win in the same year.

One of the more high-profile uncontested wins across Lok Sabha elections came in 1980, when current Union minister of new and renewable energy and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah won his seat in Srinagar uncontested. The next uncontested win came eight years later in 1989, when the National Conference’s Mohammad Shafi Bhat repeated Abdullah’s feat and won the same seat, in the same manner.

When was the last time a Lok Sabha win was won uncontested?

Mohammad Shafi Bhat’s win from Srinagar in 1989 will go down as the last uncontested Lok Sabha election win. Since then, no MP has been declared elected “uncontested".

Data source: Election Commission of India

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