India, the largest democracy in the world, will have its national elections starting from April 11. To be held in seven phases till May 19, the election will see the participation of over 900 million voters in the biggest electoral exercise where electronic voting machines (EVMs) will be used. The general elections will send 543 public representatives to 17th Lok Sabha, the powerful lower house of Indian Parliament in New Delhi.
Election Commission of India (ECI) had announced the national poll-schedule on March 10, 2019 for the nation of nearly 1.50 billion people.
After completion of a five-year term in office, the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) will seek fresh mandate from the electorate. This will only be clear on May 23, the day of counting.
NDA nominees in the polls will be facing candidates fielded by the Congress-led coalition of recognised opposition political parties named United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The third front, a loose coalition of some regional political parties across the country, named Maha Gatbandhan, is expected to challenge both NDA and UPA candidates in selective parliamentary constituencies.
In the last general elections, projected Prime Ministerial candidate of BJP (and present PM) Narendra Modi helped the the party to win absolute majority with 282 Lok Sabha seats. NDA's total tally increased to 336 (out of the 545 where two members are nominated) in the 2014 national polls. On the other hand, the oldest party (Congress) shrank to 44 seats in the house of people's representatives. BJP simply routed the Congress from any government in eight provinces or states.
Till 2014, the Congress used to have province governments in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. Now all the States including Tripura and Nagaland are ruled by either BJP or its allies. The region sends 25 members to Lok Sabha. BJP president Amit Shah claimed that his saffron party along with allies will win over 20 seats from the region. The Congress has not made any claims but maintained that their candidates will do fairly well in the polls.
During his electoral campaign, incumbent Indian Prime Minister Modi sought votes for his developmental activities along with non-corrupt governance and security to the nation. Besides pledging for more roads, airports, and other infrastructures, he promised more jobs for the youth. At the same time, Modi maintained that if elected, his party would continue various welfare programmes like providing hygienic toilets, houses, cooking gas, crop insurance, loans for small businesses and also electricity connections.
BJP's biggest rival, the Congress party, that had ruled the country for over five decades since 1947, has promised to make India a poverty-free nation by 2030 with provisions of minimum income guarantee scheme, waiving off peasant's bank loans and creation of sustainable jobs. The party president Rahul Gandhi continued to target PM Modi for his failure in various aspects including his past election promise of creating 10 million jobs every year for Indian nationals.
In the eastern parts, the Congress is expecting electoral benefits from the ruling party's much debated citizenship amendment bill (CAB), which sparked massive reactions among north-eastern ethnic groups.
The socio-political scenario of India had changed dramatically following the February 14, 2019 Pulwama terror attack. Over 40 paramilitary soldiers lost their lives through the attack. The Pakistan-based Islamist group, Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), claimed responsibility for the assault. The attack had hurt and disappointed million of Indians.
Public sentiment in India against JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar and his promoter the Islamic Republic of Pakistan soured. Modi launched a verbal war against Islamabad. His assertion was followed by sudden aerial attacks in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province (PKP) locality on February 26. The Indian airforce claimed to have hit several JeM bases in the areas. This has helped Modi's popularity.
It does not need to be mentioned that any major election in northeast India is synonymous to violence perpetrated by insurgents, who have been in conflict with the Centre (New Delhi) for decades demanding self-rule. The separatist militant outfits even once dictated the people to avoid the electoral process.
Armed groups like United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) had made it a habit to issue press statements threatening the electorate of dire consequences if they preferred to cast their votes. But brave voters have always exercised their franchises. Though lately the armed militants have stopped issuing such statements, they secretly supported political party nominees in the polls.
But this time, both the factions of Ulfa have shown reluctance to intervene in the polls. When the pro-talk faction led by Arabinda Rajkhowa recently made it clear that they would not be a part of the electoral process, the other faction led by Paresh Barua kept mum about their involvement. Barua, while talking to local media from his secret shelter somewhere in Myanmar-China border, disclosed that they did a pre-poll survey where he saw BJP as a probable gainer.
Meanwhile, a large section of socio-cultural activists as well as non-resident Indians have initiated campaigns against the present Modi-led regime and urged the electorate to defeat him with an aim to 'defend the Constitution, democracy and human rights in India'. In separate statements, they vehemently condemned Modi for bringing the country
to its knees in the last five years through various problems and where Muslims and Dalits continue to remain unsafe.
"The BJP government has also been responsible for systematic erosion and weakening of democratic values and institutions like Reserve Bank of India, Central Bureau of Investigation, Election Commission of India and others. Conscious people of the country should take it as their call," said a statement from a group of USA-based NRIs.
Nava Thakuria is a Guwahati (Assam, Northeast India)-based journalist
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