Count­down to the elec­tion sea­son

Will it be a bruis­ing bat­tle in the Hindi heart­land? Will jobs and eco­nomic is­sues pre­vail over iden­tity pol­i­tics?


Is the road to vic­tory in the Lok Sabha elec­tion via the Hindi belt, will it be one na­tional elec­tion or one de­cided State-by-State as na­tional and re­gional par­ties stitch to­gether al­liances, and will eco­nomic is­sues pre­vail over iden­tity pol­i­tics and oth­ers?

These were just some of the ques­tions dis­cussed in the ses­sion “2019: Which way will the elec­tions go?” mod­er­ated by Mukund Pad­man­ab­han, Ed­i­tor, The Hindu, in Bengaluru.

While the pan­el­lists — po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist Yo­gen­dra Ya­dav and po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists Man­isha Priyam and Rahul Verma — agreed more or less that the Hindi belt and the BJP’s show­ing in these polls will de­ter­mine who gets to rule Delhi, there were dif­fer­ences in de­grees and nu­ances. Ya­dav saw the BJP los­ing at least 100 (40 in Ut­tar Pradesh alone) of the 226 seats up for grabs in the Hindi belt, and con­sid­ered it the most sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in de­cid­ing the elec­tion.

“The sit­u­a­tion in the 226 seats of the Hindi belt will see the most change, in the re­main­ing 325 seats other than this belt, the changes will can­cel each other out as far as the BJP is con­cerned,” he said.

“His­tor­i­cally, the ev­i­dence shows that apart from an ex­cep­tion in 1999 in Ra­jasthan, the party that wins the As­sem­bly polls (that take right be­fore the Lok Sabha elec­tion) in the three States of Ra­jasthan, Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh goes on to win the larger num­ber of Lok Sabha seats. We must not take it for granted though as in Ra­jasthan we see a bounce back for the BJP, not so much in Mad­hya Pradesh and Ch­hat­tis­garh,” he said.

Verma flagged high polling and its ef­fect on vote share to seat con­ver­sion as an im­por­tant fac­tor for as­sess­ing what might hap­pen. “We don’t have a good un­der­stand­ing of the 2014 elec­tion. When we look at just high voter turnouts, we find that in seats where the voter turnout rose by 15 per cent or more, the BJP’s seat con­ver­sion to vote share was 96 per cent and where the turnout was the same as last time, the vote share to seat con­ver­sion was 34 per cent,” he said.

He said the turnout fac­tor ex­plained what sub­se­quently hap­pened with the by-polls in Go­rakh­pur, Phulpur and Kairana, where turnouts were low but the BJP man­aged to main­tain its vote share. “I main­tain that we are in a BJP-dom­i­nated party sys­tem and there­fore the elec­tion will be shaped by how the BJP plays the game. The 2019 elec­tion

Po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist Yo­gen­dra Ya­dav (sec­ond from left) and po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists Man­isha Priyam (left) and Rahul Verma (right) in con­ver­sa­tion with Mukund Pad­man­ab­han, Ed­i­tor of

The Hindu may have no prece­dent in terms of past elec­tions,” he said.

The ques­tion of whether this would be a per­son­al­i­ty­cen­tric elec­tion or go State-byS­tate also elicited in­ter­est­ing an­swers. Priyam main­tained that even in 2014, the elec­tion was State-by-State.

“The elec­tion of 2014 was also about many In­di­ans and the many lo­cal com­pacts that [Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra] Modi made with his over 500 ral­lies across the coun­try. It was al­ways a cam­paign with the PM face, but then in the larger nar­ra­tive to pitch lo­cal is­sues and colour,” she said.

Ya­dav said the BJP would pre­fer it to be one na­tional elec­tion. “Modi, as any as­tute po­lit­i­cal player, knows that suc­cess de­pends on a na­tional nar­ra­tive. In the larger nar­ra­tive, he knows where to pitch and what kind of re­gional colour is re­quired,” he said.

On the is­sues that will af­fect the elec­tions, eco­nomic fac­tors, ru­ral dis­tress and jobs were flagged as the most im­por­tant, though Ya­dav felt that the govern­ment de­served to be voted out on its ef­fect on In­dia’s in­sti­tu­tions and sec­u­lar­ism. Priyam had an in­ter­est­ing take on how job losses were be­ing in­ter­nalised and may have an im­pact on polls.

“The jobs cri­sis is re­sult­ing in break­ing of path­ways of so­cial mo­bil­ity, with young peo­ple es­pe­cially in small towns un­able to move fur­ther up with their lives. With de­mon­eti­sa­tion too, while in the be­gin­ning it en­gen­dered en­thu­si­asm, it has re­sulted in eco­nomic dis­tress. What’s be­ing of­fered in re­turn for all this is the pol­i­tics of the dom­i­nant, through the grant­ing of 10 per cent reser­va­tions for eco­nom­i­cally weaker sec­tions,” she said.

Bat­tle of the bal­lot

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