After months of polarising campaigning, India goes to polls on April 11. In the first phase votes would be cast in 91 of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies marking the beginning of gruelling 7-phase general elections that ends on May 19.
The counting of votes will take place on May 23. The polling is spread over 18 states and two union territories. Simultaneous assembly elections will also take place in four states of Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Arunachal Pradesh, and Sikkim.
In 2014 the main contest was between the two major formations—UPA led by Congress and NDA led by BJP. In 2019 several regional parties have decided to go alone. Biju Janata Dal in Orissa, YSR Congress and TDP in Andhra, and TRS in Telangana are going alone. Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal too is bracing for a tough fight with BJP. An alliance of BSP and SP in Uttar Pradesh is posing a major challenge to BJP.
Congress which was reduced to an individual score of 45 in 2014 after a shock defeat at the hands of BJP is attempting a come back. The party after capturing Chattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan state assemblies in November 2018 elections is hoping to improve its tally.
A renewed nationalist pitch by BJP after Balakot air strikes has put fresh hurdles in its way. Almost all the pre poll surveys have indicated return of BJP and its allies but with a reduced margin. The fight has become even more intense as the Opposition is trying hard to deny a second term to the government headed by prime minister Narendra Modi.
In surveys Modi’s popularity remains high and NDA is projecting him as clear prime ministerial candidate as opposed to the Opposition which is in a disarray. BJP’s formidable campaign machinery is pushing ahead with its shrill campaign constantly attacking the Opposition and raising emotive issues projecting itself as the only saviour of the nation. It’s projecting its muscular foreign policy with unabashed domestic agenda that seeks to create a “New India” laced heavily with its Hindutva brand of politics.
Congress unwilling to take the Hindutva rhetoric head on is focusing as a strategy on bread and butter issues such as lack of employment, agrarian distress, women safety etc. It has also promised to introduce a minimum income guarantee scheme called Nyay with an aim to abolish poverty and bringing 25 crore people above poverty line.
The electioneering is marred by shocking and abusive narratives in media with television and social media leading the charge. Fake and unsubstantiated news and information is being pedalled heavily making it a headache for the authorities and regulators.
In the run up to the polls questions have been raised on autonomy and functioning of various crucial institutions. The Election Commission itself has come under fire from the Opposition parties. The EC said on April 8 that as per a Supreme Court directive, five EVMs per Assembly segment/constituency would be fixed for verification through VVPAT slips. The opposition had sought cross-checking of 50% VVPAT slips but the commission opposed it citing an expert committee report.
Since BJP expects losses in major northern states, it is making extra efforts to make up the gap by winning more seats in southern and eastern states.
In 2014 Naidu benefitted due to alliance with BJP and tacit backing of Pawan Kalyan, actor-turned-politician. This time he is going alone with Kalyan deciding to field candidates in all the constituencies. Besides Naidu’s is facing heavy anti-incumbency with Reddy breathing down his neck by mobilising crowds with his 3000-kms of padyatra.
While Naidu would attempt to retain his chief ministership in the assembly elections, the parliamentary elections would be keenly watched by BJP and Congress for post poll alliance possibilities as they have no say per say in the state.
The election holds significance as Patnaik, one of India’s longest serving chief ministers, has not pledged allegiance to either Congress or BJP. The state, which accounts for 21 Lok Sabha seats, has voted for Patnaik for the past three terms. Considering his popularity in the state, BJP and Congress may find it hard to leave an impact. In 2014, the BJP had won only a single parliamentary seat in Odisha.
Uttar Pradesh: Only eight constituencies of Uttar Pradesh would go to polls in the first phase. These are in Western part of the state. Three union ministers, General VK Singh, Sanjeev Balyan and Mahesh Sharma— all known for their controversial statements will be facing the elections. Mahagatbandhan of BSP-SP-RLD has fielded joint candidate making a tough battle for BJP. Voting in Western Uttar Pradesh is important as it is expected to set the trend rest of the state.
Bihar: First phase of Bihar is crucial as Jitan Ram Manji, former chief minister and partner in RJD-Congress alliance is contesting in one of the four seats that goes to polls. Chirag Pawan, son of Ram Vilas Paswan too is in the fray.
Telangana: In Telangana, 443 candidates, including MP Kalvakuntla Kavitha, the daughter of Chief Minister of Telangana K Chandrasekhar Rao, are contesting in 17 parliamentary constituencies. The focus of this election in Telangana is how Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) fares in this election, given Rao’s continued demand for an “alternative federal politics” and his confidence of gaining majority seats in the assembly elections.
In the December assembly polls advanced by six months TRS won 88 of the 119 assembly seats. These 88 seats covered an area that would guarantee it 15 Lok Sabha seats. Thus, this election will determine how many seats TRS gets in the Lok Sabha.
Sikkim: The election in this state will be interesting as the Sikkim Democratic Front’s (SDF’s) Pawan Kumar Chamling, the country’s longest-serving chief minister, is seeking a record sixth term in office.
While the opposition, Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), is claiming that Chamling is facing huge anti-incumbency, the chief minister is confident he will get a sixth term in office.
Arunachal Pradesh: Arunachal Chief Minister Pema Khandu is seeking re-election from Mukto Assembly seat for the third consecutive term. Interestingly, Khandu is the richest among 184 candidates contesting the state polls, with assets worth more than ₹163 crore, according to an election watchdog report. The state is facing both assembly and parliament elections.
Maharashtra: The state with 48 Lok Sabha constituencies will vote to elect members to the Lok Sabha in four phases beginning April 11. After much acrimony and name calling BJP and Shiv Sena has sealed a deal. Even in 2014 general elections, the two parties had fought together but went separate ways in the October 2014 Assembly elections.
Minister for Road Transport & Highways Nitin Gadkari is contesting from Nagpur and it will go for polls in the first phase. Gadkari would be taking on Congress’ Nana Patole.