The 2019 poll battle has officially begun. The Election Commission has announced a seven-phase poll schedule for Lok Sabha election from April 11 to May 19, culminating in the results on May 23. PM Narendra Modi has already spun multiple rounds of intense campaigning, as he travels across the country inaugurating and laying foundation stones of multiple institutions. As Modi seeks a second term and pitches for a majority mandate, the political conversation is swirling around the PM's claim to have provided decisive leadership even as the Opposition point their fingers at him for encouraging a culture of majoritarianism and failure in creating employment.
The PM has now hit back and said he is opposed by a disparate grouping of parties driven by the sole agenda of replacing him. He has responded to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's “corrupt chowkidar” jibes, asserting he has in fact, been an alert chowkidar who replaced a culture of nepotism and corruption with purposeful governance and took bold decisions to curb black money and counter terrorism. The polls are a tough test for Rahul, who has taken charge of Congress from his mother Sonia, and has gone all out to attack Modi, accusing him of graft in the Rafale deal and a divisive social agenda. He has, with some success, offered a strong dose of populism, promising loan waivers to woo voters as he seeks to revive Congress from the 44-seat low it hit in 2014.
51,709 booths in Gujarat
Voting for all the 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat will take place on April 23 during the third phase of polling. After announcement of the election schedule, Gujarat Chief Electoral Officer S Murali Krishna said that the model code of conduct has come into force throughout the state. Candidates will be able to file their nominations from March 28 to April 4 between 11 am and 3 pm. Two seats reserved for candidates from Scheduled Castes are Kutch and Ahmedabad West, while those reserved for candidates from Scheduled Tribes are Dahod, Chhota Udepur, Bardoli and Valsad. The remaining 20 seats are open to candidates from the general category.
Polling is set to take place at 51,709 polling stations in Gujarat, of which one third are in urban areas and two thirds are in rural areas. With a view to ensuring that people do not have to wait in long queues to cast their vote, there are just eight polling stations having more than 1,500 registered voters. In all, 3,895 polling stations have less than 500 registered voters, 31,056 polling stations have between 500 and 100 registered voters and 16,750 polling stations have between 1,000 and 1,500 registered voters.
Modi Sarkar 2.0?
In the meantime, speculation has intensified on whether BJP can repeat its feat of winning a majority on its own and what will be the implications for its leadership if it falls short. Odds of a Modi majority, a BJP-led coalition, a federal front government or a Congress-led coalition have all engaged political and business circles. While Modi and BJP have been front runners, the recent air strikes may have changed dynamics. While the election seems to be framed by “ordinary” issues like employment, farm incomes, cow vigilantism, intolerance, economic growth, and welfarism seemed to be framing the elections, the military action has dwarfed other discussions for the time being.
Modi's political rivals - regional, OBC and Dalit leaders such as Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati - rely on caste alliances and secular/communal politics to attack BJP as an upper caste party that subsumes lower caste aspirations in the name of Hindu assimilation. Congress, looking to retrieve its centre space, has attacked the efficacy of every major policy from demonetisation, GST, surgical strikes to air raids on Pakistan’s Balakot. While the challenge for BJP is to ensure the public response to the air strikes sustains while hoping its pro-poor schemes along with low food inflation create a new vote bank, Congress and opposition parties will bank on incumbency and a consolidation of anti-BJP votes, particularly the minorities.
The big challenge for Modi is the SP-BSP combination in UP, which threatened BJP’s sweep of the state in 2014. BJP has sought to counter this through Modi’s stature (and his OBC background) and an ambitious outreach to non-Jatav Dalits and non-Yadav OBCs. Other powerful spoilers are regional leaders holding their own in big states like West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
A major part of the poll action will be fought in states where BJP and Congress face off. Last time round, BJP did well in Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Gujarat, Maharashtra, MP, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Goa, Assam and Haryana, which add up to 216 seats. With BJP having already reached saturation point in these territories and in UP, Congress naturally hopes to do better, with the results of assembly elections in November whetting its ambition.