Decoding Indian General Elections 2019
The world’s largest exercise in democracy began on April 11 with around 900 million voting for the 545-seat Lok Sabha in the Parliament. The present government seems to be facing, what looks like a close contest
Text: Sapna Srivastava
The Indian general elections will be conducted over seven phases around the country ending on May 19 and the votes from the country’s 29 states and seven union territories will be counted on May 23. Seeking re-election, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that won a landslide in the last elections in 2014 is projecting an image of being tough against terrorism & corruption and championing the cause of the poor. Congress, the main national opposition party on the other hand endeavour is to win the elections on the basis of presenting BJP rule as, that of attacking constitutional institutions, freedom of speech and playing communal politics.
The current government does face challenges from a resurgent Congress party and strong regional parties. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a charismatic leader and an orator, Rahul Gandhi, leading the Congress Party, has been shoring up key constituencies ahead of voting. In terms of candidates, BJP has been fielding its sitting MPs and reshuffling candidates in other states. The Congress has opted to bring in more fresh faces. However, the women representation remains disappointing among both parties. So far, the Congress has fielded 18 Muslim candidates and the BJP, has given only six tickets to Muslim candidates.
Some major alliances this election are Samajwadi Party BSP combination in UP, Bihar, the BJP, Janata Dal United and other NDA partners, Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress and K Chandrasekhara Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) in AP, DMK-led alliance (including Congress and Left) in Tamil Nadu and Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena in Maharastra.
In the last national elections of 2014, political parties spent over $5 billion, according to Milan Vaishnav, director of the South Asia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. That figure is expected to grow significantly this year. In theory, there is a cap of $1 million on parliamentary candidate’s campaign spend, in practice, large amounts of undeclared funds are used by the candidates.
Furthermore, the current government has now allowed campaign funding from Indians living abroad and from foreign firms that have Indian holding companies. They can also raise money from anonymous individual or corporate donors through the use of “electoral bonds.”
What’s At Stake?
According to political analysts, India has become more religiously polarised under BJP rule. India has also slipped two places to rank 140th among 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, 2019 report released by Reporters Without Borders, an international NGO based in Paris. The economists point out that economy has lost its momentum with unemployment as a major concern. Farm incomes have also stagnated and there is a major unrest brewing among farmers community. According to the Mumbai based think tank Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the rate of unemployment hit 7.2 per cent in February and rural unemployment at 6.98 per cent is the worst in last four decades. Also read http://realtyplusmag.com/mumbais-stressed-infrastructure-stop-the-buck/
Election Commission’s Tough Task
Election Commission has taken various steps to ensure fair elections. No voter will have to travel more than 2km to reach a polling station. The poll body is introducing voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) for verification of voting in all polling booths in the country for the first time in general elections.
To curb poll malpractices, Election Commission is using multiple mobile applications. It has received more than 40,000 complaints of violations of Model Code of Conduct at its cVigil app.
Through the Voter Helpline Mobile app, people can check their names in the electoral roll, submit forms, file complaints and receive the reply. The Samadhan app, assists in addressing grievances related to voter lists and ID cards and candidates and parties can apply for permissions before conducting meetings, rallies, etc.
Election Commission is keeping a hawk eye on preventing any malpractices. It recently stopped screening of a film and Web series on Modi and has cracked the whip on provocative speeches and barred accused candidates from campaigning for 48-72 hours. The commission is monitoring online campaigning too. All candidates will have to declare their social media accounts and get pre-certification for political advertisement on social media from Election Commission.