Acrimonious Election Campaign in India

Acrimonious Election Campaign in India
Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram
This Sunday India will have its seventh and final phase of voting. So far, voters in 483 of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies have cast ballots. Some 59 seats will go the polls on May 19, after which pollsters will release findings of exit polls. The campaign has been very nasty with the leaders of the parties attacking incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi who responds in kind.
 
The turnout is about 64% so far of 970 million eligible voters. Pre-election opinion polls put the incumbent BJP led NDA coalition ahead of the Congress led UPA coalition. This writer also polled for this election. Almost every voter in the urban constituencies and of middle class background is voting BJP. The rural and slum dwellers are divided. Congress party is faring poorly and will just barely overtake its 43 seats it won in 2014 which was down from the 205 it won in 2009. With such low numbers, it is unlikely that Congress will be in a position to lead a government. The regional parties especially in the South and northeast are doing quite well. If BJP fails to get a majority, then the regional parties could come together to form a third front government. However, that is not likely as this writer projects from his surveys that the BJP will win the most seats, if not an outright majority, and with its NDA partners will get enough support to cross the 273 threshold needed to form a government.
 
India is the world’s largest democracy. The tone of the campaign has been nasty with the prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and the leaders of the other parties such as Congress, SP, BSP, RLD engaged in a nasty tit for tat. The opposition has formed an alliance to defeat Modi. The campaign has been acrimonious.
It is very difficult to predict the come of the lections especially in India’s largest state of Uttar Pradesh which has 80 seats. The BJP alliance won 73 seats in 2014 because several caste based parties were in the fray. This year, it could lose between 15 and 25 because of the alliance of lower caste parties SP (Yadavs) and BSP (dalits or chamars). The Congress Party has been contesting against the other two parties though not in every seat. And the alliance of the two lower caste parties are not contesting in the two seats being fought by Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia. The splitting of votes in other seats could help BJP to win seats it would otherwise lose. Nevertheless, BJP is not likely to repeat its spectacular performance of 2014. The incumbent party is also struggling in the capital city of Delhi to retain the seven seats it swept in 2014.
 
There is no let-up in the attack on Modi by opposition political adversaries.Prime Minister Modi, in response, call the alliance unstable.
Congress is expected to be trounced winning less than half a dozen seats in UP as was also the case in 2014. BJP is projected to win about 50 seats in UP (down from 70) but make up for losses with gains in other states such as West Bengal, Karnataka, and Odisha. The BJP is also expected to lose seats in Madya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chatisgarh, and Punjab. The gains may neutralize the losses. This will ensure Modi remains PM for another term. If short of 273, his NDA partners could provide the back up. If not, other allies could come on board.
 
Counting of ballots is on the 23 of May. Unlike in Guyana, election workers can count numbers quickly. In Guyana, where it takes days and sometimes weeks to count 400K votes, in India hundreds of millions of ballots are counted within a couple of hours and there is no violence after the counting. If a party loses, it concedes defeat unlike in Guyana where racial bullyism occurs to force a way into government.