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Polls begin in India: No prospect of any single party winning majority

  • Published at 08:24 pm April 11th, 2019
Voters line up to cast their votes outside a polling station during the first phase of general election in Alipurduar district in the eastern state of West Bengal, India, April 11, 2019 Reuters

The ‘Modi wave’ significantly diminished due to demonetisation, increased Hindu extremism, ill-treatment of Muslims, unemployment and inability to enhance rural economy, experts say  

The Indians have started voting to elect representatives for the 17th Lok Sabha, the lower chamber of the Indian Parliament, with a prospect of no party getting an absolute majority to form the next government.

However, opinion polls indicate that the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Narendra Modi, may form a government with a reduced majority as compared to 2014, when the 39-party alliance enjoyed a resounding mandate.

The largest democratic practice in the world is taking place in seven phases, the first phase starting on Thursday, and will continue till May 19 to elect 543 members of Lok Sabha. Votes will be counted and the results will be declared on May 23.

In the first phase on Thursday, millions of voters cast their ballots in 91 constituencies in 20 states and union territories. A staggering 900 million Indians are eligible to vote in the elections.

According to most of the latest opinion polls, the NDA is likely to bag little over 272 seats, the magic figure required to form the government, while the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is likely to get around 150. The remaining seats – over 100 – will go to the regional parties and the independents.

However, past instances show that opinion polls always do not prove to be right.   

“Look, it is not going to be like 2014. Modi magic is not going to work in the way it did five years back due to various reasons, starting from demonetisation to ill-treatment of minorities, especially the Muslims, who constitute roughly 120 million out of 900 million voters,” an editor of a reputed Indian daily, who did not wish to be named, told the Dhaka Tribune on Wednesday night.

The BJP won 282 seats in the 2014 general elections, and the NDA alliance bagged 336 seats out of 543.

“People provided Modi with a clear majority with a hope that his rule would fulfil their hopes and aspirations. I think that very dream of the people has been shattered to a significant extent,” he said.

In reply to a question, the editor said: “The BJP is still most likely to emerge as the single largest party as the prime minister’s image, though affected in last five years, still solid among many. And, the NDA alliance may win a majority by a single digit margin.”

He further said: “I think 120 million Muslim voters are going to vote for anyone but BJP, because they suffered a lot as the Hindu extremism increased significantly during the outgoing tenure of Narendra Modi. In an election, you cannot, under any circumstances, underestimate the votes of 120 million people.”

“You can be sure that the BJP is not going to win an absolute majority in the 2019 elections. Yes, the NDA alliance has a much better chance to form the next government than the 13-party United Progressive Alliance, led by Congress. In my opinion, this is also not a done deal yet,”  Gautam Lahiri, a senior journalist and former president of Delhi Press Club, told this correspondent from the Indian capital on Wednesday night.

“We may even have a hung parliament,” he said, admitting that Modi’s personal image is still strong – though weaker than prior to 2014 polls.

About the Indian prime minister’s handling of Kashmir issue after the attack on a convoy of soldiers in February, Lahiri said: “Yes, after the air strikes inside Pakistan, his position has strengthened, but it did not appear to have sustained due to many reasons. And, most importantly, a single issue among many pressing ones like poverty alleviation, unemployment, deterioration of rural economy and broken promise of generating 20 million jobs every year, cannot get a prime minister re-elected.”

On Congress, which won only 44 seats in 2014 elections, he said: “The party will do better, undoubtedly. But, I do not think that it will emerge as a single largest party.”

The latest surge of the Congress by performing well in the state elections late last year, and the induction of Priyanka Gandhi have made things even more difficult for the NDA, he said.

“In this election, the performance of the regional parties might be a determining factor,” he added.

“Demonetisation, failure to reduce poverty as pledged, allowing Hindu extremism to rise and treatment of minorities, particularly the Muslims are the reasons why moderate and educated voters are turning their back on the BJP,” said a lawyer of the Guwahati High Court in Assam.

“To me, the BJP, over the last five years, divided the nation rather than uniting. In a diversified country like India, it is not possible to rule effectively following the ideals of a particular religion and promoting it,” he said.  

According to the individuals, the BJP is set to do well in the Hindi-speaking states excluding Uttar Pradesh, which sends the highest number of representatives to Lok Sabha – 80. The party is expected to do well in West Bengal, having the third largest number of Lok Sabha members. But, it is most likely to lose some seats in Assam that has 14 seats, of which the ruling party won eight in 2014 elections.

The regional parties will dominate in south India, northeast India and West Bengal, they said, adding that if the coalition between the Congress and other regional parties, where the old grand party is not strong, work well, the present government may be unseated.

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