Imponderables of the Indian Elections
Come the April general elections in India, it is clear that the big story is the Narendra Modi versus Arvind Kejriwal fight which seems to be drawing more attention with new developments every day. The year-old AAP is all set to contest its first national election since its bursting on the scene in the Delhi polls with a campaign that promised to eliminate corruption and VIP culture. According to the Election Commission of India, the elections process will commence on April 7 and continue on nine separate dates until May 12, with the results expected to be announced on May 16.
Arvind Kejriwal resigned from the post of Chief Minister of Delhi after the BJP and the Congress foiled his plans to introduce the anti-graft Jan Lokpal Bill in the Delhi Assembly. Subsequently, Kejriwal had vowed that he would not continue on his post “for a minute longer” if his government failed to get the Bill passed in the Delhi assembly. He stuck to his promise by tendering his resignation soon after the opposition ganged up to stall his plans. There is also the Modi factor that will play a key role in the coming elections. It will be important to see how this pans out. The AAP seems to be holding the potential to spoil the game for the BJP in many constituencies. However, if Narendra Modi were to become India’s next prime minister and the BJP manages to cobble together a coalition under his helm, the effect on India’s foreign policy could be cataclysmic. The impatience among the youth towards the Congress is said to be one of the biggest forces behind the rise of the BJP and Modi over the past two years. Modi’s perceived decisiveness has had a strong appeal on the youth. This may be tempered though by two reasons. The reported stalking of a young woman by the Gujarat police has been noted by the youth and the argument that it was done at her father’s request has only complicated the matter. The second is the saffron party’s position on gay rights. While the Congress and AAP came out strongly in support of gay rights, the BJP took the position that this was against Indian tradition. The aspirational youth had overcome caste politics and looked towards the BJP as the vehicle for realizing their dreams but they are now confused by the party’s invocation of tradition.
While the BJP’s performance in its key states such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and even Karnataka is certain to be impressive, the unknown factor is its prospects in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar that produce 120 MPs. If all parties contested separately, the BJP could get as many as 50 seats in UP and 20 in Bihar. Altogether, the way these unknown factors unfold could considerably impact the political current. Obviously, the Congress and BJP will both try to influence these factors.
In the 2014 Indian elections, the world’s largest, with 814 million eligible voters choosing 543 members of the lower house of Parliament, no party is expected to win an outright majority, though Modi is reported to enjoy a substantial lead in opinion polls. A total of 272 seats are needed to elect the Indian prime minister and an assortment of regional parties will probably be needed to put together a majority. The Gandhi family, which has dominated Indian politics for most of the country’s 67-year history, could suffer its worst defeat ever this time, with some surveys predicting a rout for the Indian National Congress, with the slowing economy and repeated corruption scandals adding to its woes. Sonia Gandhi, the family matriarch and president of the Congress, has suffered unexplained illnesses and it is expected she will pass on the leadership of the party to her son, Rahul Gandhi. But Rahul’s recent public pronouncements and lackluster campaigning has led many to wonder whether he really wants the job.
India’s national elections are a huge administrative undertaking involving 11 million government workers, 930,000 polling stations and 1.7 million electronic voting machines, with administrative costs expected to exceed $645 million. All the same, despite the widespread corruption in Indian society, elections are widely considered to be fair, and powerful legislators routinely go down crashing in unexpected defeats.
Syed Jawaid Iqbal