Im­pon­der­ables of the In­dian Elec­tions

Southasia - - COMMENT -

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

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