Great­est Show on Earth!

The sta­tis­tics re­lated to In­dia’s six­teenth Lok Sabha elec­tions are sim­ply as­tound­ing.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

In any democ­racy, reg­u­lar elec­tions are the norm. But in the case of In­dia’s Lok Sabha elec­tions, there are cer­tain fea­tures that set them apart from sim­i­lar ex­er­cises else­where in the world.

In­dia is the largest democ­racy in the world with a pop­u­la­tion of 1.27 bil­lion. Of these, 814.5 mil­lion are el­i­gi­ble vot­ers – 426.6 mil­lion are men, 387.9 mil­lion women and 28,314 trans­gen­der vot­ers. An­other 11,844 are non-res­i­dent In­di­ans reg­is­tered to vote but they may not be able to par­tic­i­pate in the elec­tions be­cause mail-in bal­lots are not al­lowed. Yet an­other fea­ture of Elec­tions 2014 is that there are as many as 23 mil­lion el­i­gi­ble vot­ers be­tween the ages of 18 and 19.

The amount of money can­di­dates are al­lowed to spend on their elec­tion cam­paigns has been fixed at up to Rs.7 mil­lion. The process to elect the 543 mem­bers of the six­teenth Lok Sabha will kick off on April 7 and go on for more than one month, in nine phases, till May 12. Count­ing of votes will be­gin on May 16. In Ut­tar Pradesh and Bi­har, the two most pop­u­lous states in the coun­try, voting will be spread over six days. With the ex­cite­ment gen­er­ated by the cam­paigns and the color lent by fes­toons, flags and ral­lies, In­dia’s gen­eral elec­tions present the spec­ta­cle of the great­est show on earth.

It is a mind-bog­gling ex­er­cise in terms of man­power and re­sources. More­over, this time the mag­ni­tude of the task is greater than ever be­cause of an es­ti­mated 100 mil­lion new vot­ers.

About 11 mil­lion per­son­nel, in­clud­ing the mil­i­tary and the po­lice, will be de­ployed to help con­duct the elec­tions. In ad­di­tion, 5.5 mil­lion people, in­clud­ing school teach­ers and state and cen­tral govern­ment em­ploy­ees will work as polling of­fi­cers and as­sist in the vote count. Voting will be done through elec­tronic bal­lots for which 1.4 mil­lion elec­tronic voting ma­chines will be in­stalled. Votes will be cast at 930,000 polling sta­tions.

Six na­tional par­ties, 47 state par­ties and most, if not all, of the 1,563 un­rec­og­nized par­ties will take part in the elec­tions. A ‘na­tional party’ is one that is rec­og­nized in at least four states; other­wise it is known as a ‘state party’.

Some na­tional par­ties are the Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia, the Com­mu­nist Party of In­dia (Marx­ist), the In­dian Na­tional Congress and Sharad Pawar’s Na­tional Congress Party. Im­por­tant among the state par­ties are the Aam Aadmi Party, the All In­dia Anna Dravida Mun­netra Kazhagam, the NR Congress, For­ward Bloc, the Tri­namool Congress, the United Demo­cratic Front, the Jhark­hand Stu­dents Union, the Asom Gana Par­ishad, the Dravida Mun­netra Kazhagam, the In­dian Union Mus­lim League, the Janata Dal (United), the Janata Dal (Sec­u­lar), the Lok Jana Shakti Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Sa­ma­jwadi Party, the Shi­ro­mani Akali Dal, the Shiva Sena and the Tel­ugu De­sham Party.

The main con­test will be be­tween Rahul Gandhi and Naren­dra Modi. One rep­re­sents the rul­ing Congress

while the other is nom­i­nated by the op­po­si­tion Bharatiya Janata Party. The con­trast be­tween the two is clas­sic David and Go­liath – from age to ed­u­ca­tion to back­ground to po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy and to ex­pe­ri­ence.

Gandhi is a full 20 years younger than Modi. He has de­grees from St. Stephens Col­lege (Delhi) and Cam­bridge, un­der his belt. Modi was ed­u­cated lo­cally and did his Masters in Po­lit­i­cal Sci­ence from the Univer­sity of Gu­jarat. Gandhi is a Brah­min, born with a sil­ver spoon in his mouth. His fa­ther, grand­mother and great-grand­fa­ther were all In­dia’s prime min­is­ters. Modi is a Vaish from a fam­ily of grocers, who started life as a tea stall ven­dor.

Gandhi has a sec­u­lar po­lit­i­cal out­look. Modi is com­mu­nal and is blamed for the Mus­lim pogrom in Gu­jarat in 2002. From his ear­li­est days as a school stu­dent, he has been an ac­tive pracharak (pub­lic­ity worker) of the ex­treme rightwing Rashtriya Se­vak Sangh that was re­spon­si­ble for Ma­hatma Gandhi’s as­sas­si­na­tion.

Rahul Gandhi does not have any ex­pe­ri­ence of gov­er­nance, whereas Naren­dra Modi has been chief min­is­ter of Gu­jarat since 2001. Modi is us­ing the eco­nomic progress of Gu­jarat as a trump card to sup­port his el­i­gi­bil­ity as the next prime min­is­ter of the coun­try. He also catches the fancy of the masses for be­ing a new face on the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal stage. There is a large seg­ment of vot­ers that be­lieves that Modi should be given a chance. The rul­ing Congress, on the other hand, suf­fers from in­cum­bency fa­tigue af­ter two con­sec­u­tive terms in of­fice. Be­sides, it is also weighed down by scan­dals of mas­sive cor­rup­tion. Modi’s hands are clean. The BJP un­der Modi is there­fore be­lieved to emerge as the largest party af­ter the elec­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to the opin­ion polls con­ducted by NDTV in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Hansa Re­search Cen­tre, the BJP-led NDA is likely to win 229 seats. The Congress-led UPA can win 129 seats and the other par­ties can get 130 seats. Be­sides, the NDA is pro­jected to win 8 and the Congress 22 seats in small states and union ter­ri­to­ries. That leaves the re­main­ing par­ties with 55 seats.

But there may be some sur­prises as well. First, there is the Third Front or the Left front of re­gional par­ties with its com­mit­ment to sec­u­lar­ism and so­cial jus­tice. It stands united in its op­po­si­tion to both the Congress and the BJP.

The 11-party Third Front has de­clared it­self as an “al­ter­na­tive” to the dom­i­nance of the Congress and the BJP. As the Congress is not ex­pected to win, the Third Front has aligned it­self against the BJP which it sees as be­ing “a dan­ger­ous mix (of) ag­gres­sive cap­i­tal­ism ( and) a ra­bid form of com­mu­nal ide­ol­ogy.”

The sec­ond and more for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge is posed by the Aam Aadmi Party. It sprung a sur­prise in its de­but con­test in the Delhi state elec­tions last year when it emerged as the ma­jor­ity party. The AAP pro­poses to con­test from 20 out of 29 states against the Congress and the BJP, and ex­pects to win 100 seats. That fig­ure may be too am­bi­tious but given its in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity, it may ac­tu­ally win a fairly large num­ber of seats.

The size of the dent that the Third Front and the AAP may cause in the Congress and BJP’s vote bank is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict but it is ex­pected to be sub­stan­tial. In the cur­rent Lok Sabha, the Third Front par­ties have 92 seats. It is quite likely, there­fore, that jointly the AAP and the Third Front may fur­ther im­prove the tally.

With no party likely to win an out­right ma­jor­ity of 272 seats, the ma­jor­ity party will have to form a coali­tion with smaller re­gional par­ties, which has been the trend since 1989. This will be a happy au­gury in case the BJP comes to power be­cause a coali­tion would pre­vent Modi from rid­ing rough shod over the mi­nori­ties with his Hin­dutva or Hindu na­tion­al­ist agenda.

Some an­a­lysts pre­dict that on the for­eign pol­icy front, a Modi-led govern­ment is likely to take a more hard­line stance on Pak­istan. How­ever, this may be a bo­gey be­cause Atal Bi­hari Va­j­payee, an­other BJP prime min­is­ter, also took many steps to im­prove ties with Pak­istan. He made a bus trip to La­hore and later in­vited Pres­i­dent Mushar­raf to visit In­dia. The writer is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer edi­tor of SouthAsia Mag­a­zine.

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