Asia House is partnering with the University of Nottingham’s Asia Research Institute to keep you up-to-date on the Indian Elections 2019. Read their analysis on the largest democratic exercise in the world below.
18 April 2019
Last week saw the successful conclusion of the first phase of India’s seven-phase Lok Sabha elections. Today (18 April) is the second polling date, with elections scheduled to go ahead in 97 constituencies spread over 12 states and the Union Territory of Puducherry.
What we know
On 11 April, elections were conducted in 91 constituencies, spread over 18 States and two Union Territories. The overall voter turnout stood at 69.43 per cent, which compares favourably with the final voter turnout percentage of the 2014 General Elections, which was 66.44 per cent.
Voting was conducted smoothly in most parts of the country, with sporadic reports of violence from some constituencies in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tripura, Maharashtra and Bihar. In Andhra Pradesh, where there was a voter turnout of 78.14 per cent, there were several reports of violent clashes between the supporters of the two main regional parties, namely N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Telegu Desam Party (TDP) and Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSR Congress Party (YSRCP), as well as complaints to the Election Commission about malfunctioning Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). The Chief Electoral Officer has maintained that the polls in Andhra Pradesh were ‘largely satisfactory’.
In India’s newest state, Telangana, voting was peaceful with extensive security provided in Naxal-affected areas. However, reports speculated on voter fatigue to explain the overall low voter turnout at 62.69 per cent, which dropped to a dismal 39.49 per cent in the city of Hyderabad. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) is widely expected to win an overwhelming majority of Telangana’s 17 Lok Sabha seats.
Voting was concluded in 11 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats spread over the eight North-Eastern states of India, namely, Assam, Tripura, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is relying on a carefully crafted North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) with various regional parties from the North-East to win 20-22 of these seats.
In Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar, there has been a relatively low voter turnout. Sanjay Kumar, Director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), has scaled down his earlier predictions for the BJP, arguing that lower voter turnout could indicate a lower tally of 20-25 seats for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, instead of the previously predicted 32-40 seats. These predictions echo the findings of the CVOTER-IANS tracker that has recorded a fall in approval ratings of Narendra Nodi Government by 12 points between 12 March and 12 April, from 55.28 to 43.25.
Over the last week, there have been allegations from opposition parties of irregularities in the voting process and in the use of EVMs. Complaints of candidates violating the Model Code of Conduct have dominated Indian media. Prompted to act by the Supreme Court of India’s displeasure, the Election Commission has barred four politicians – two from the BJP and two from opposition parties – from campaigning in the run up to the second phase of polling, for violating the Model Code of Conduct. It has also issued a nationwide campaign ban on BJP’s Yogi Adityanath and Samajwadi Party’s Azam Khan for 72 hours; and on Maneka Gandhi (BJP) and Mayawati (BSP) for 48 hours. In the run up to Tamil Nadu’s only polling date on 18 April, there have been raids by the Income Tax department and the Election Commission’s functionaries to seize money hoarded for bribing voters. In a historic first, the vote has been rescinded in the Vellore constituency over abuse of money power.
While a range of experts weighed in on the Congress and BJP manifestos, the issue of unemployment was highlighted by a report on The State of Working India 2019, published on Tuesday 16 April by the Centre for Sustainable Employment of the Azim Premji University. Its findings note a steady rise in unemployment since 2011 and a loss of 5 million jobs immediately after demonetisation.
What we think
The allegations by opposition parties about malfunctioning EVMs or EVMs being rigged to favour BJP do not have much merit, despite its prominence in the media. This is an old accusation and the Election Commission has responded robustly in the past by developing and using Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs) in conjunction with EVMs. However, the 2019 Lok Sabha Election has seen a surge in the use of money and other illegal hand-outs by political parties to influence voters. The last five years have seen increasing polarisation of politics in India along communal lines, so it is unsurprising that the 2019 elections are riddled with accusations of ‘provocative’ speeches. We might witness further calls for the Election Commission to act to uphold the Model Code of Conduct in the coming weeks.
The first phase of elections has highlighted the importance of regional parties and issues in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Neither the Congress nor the BJP is likely to win many of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. While both TDP and YSRCP of Andhra Pradesh are unlikely to support a Congress government at the centre due to local anti-Congress sentiments born of the creation of Telangana, their support for the BJP is also not guaranteed. TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu is not averse to the idea of a ‘Third Front’ as an alternative to BJP and Congress. Telangana’s K. Chandrashekar Rao, at the helm of the TRS, has made no secret of his national ambitions of playing king-maker in the event of no single party winning a majority. The BJP needs to do well in the 25 Lok Sabha constituencies from the North East to stand a real chance at forming a majority government. However, its proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill (2016) was extremely unpopular in the North Eastern states and temporarily jeopardised its alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) in Assam. With analysts predicting a backlash over the Bill, and with the Congress exploiting its unpopularity, the success of the BJP in the North Eastern states is by no means certain.
Things to watch out for next week
Today (18 April) is the second of seven polling dates, with elections scheduled to go ahead in 97 constituencies spread over 12 states and the Union Territory of Puducherry. Elections will continue in the states of Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. For the state of Karnataka, this will be the first of two polling dates, with the outcome of 14 of its 28 seats decided by the end of the day. Congress will be contesting in alliance with regional party Janata Dal (Secular) against the BJP in what promises to be a closely fought contest. For Tamil Nadu, this is the only polling date. Elections in the state will be a bipolar contest, with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) front partnering with the BJP and theDravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) front allying with the Congress. With the passing of the leaders of both the AIADMK and DMK, local caste-based alliances might play a role in the elections, as will regional issues, such as demonetisation’s impact on the textile industry, protests against the construction of a Sterlite plant and economic distress amongst farmers.
The implementation of the National Register of Citizens will continue to be highlighted as a key election promise by the BJP in the eastern states of Assam and West Bengal. However, given the BJP’s tendency to single out non-Hindu migrants for expulsion, it remains to be seen if this campaign will fall foul of the Election Commission’s Model Code of Conduct. While exit polls will only be released after the last date of voting (19 May), analysis of the prospects of different parties and candidates will continue, as will last minute negotiations over alliances, particularly between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress in Delhi.
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*This article has been modified in line with Asia House editorial guidelines.