Earth’s biggest democratic show | Daily News


Earth’s biggest democratic show

India goes to the polls today in what is described as the largest exercise of the franchise in the democratic world. Over 900 million voters will cast their ballots, beginning today, in the phased out election, to pick 543 Members to Parliament. There will be 10 million officials on election duty and an equal number of policemen overseeing the poll in what certainly is a mind boggling convergence of humanity, arguably not witnessed anywhere on the planet. The whole exercise will end on May 19.

The main contenders are the Bharathiya Janatha Party (BJP) led by incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Congress Party, headed by Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. In addition there are the profusion of regional parties representing the numerous castes, tribes, religious minorities in addition to the Marxists and spoiler parties, in what is certainly a melting pot of actors in the drama that is to unfold today. Adding glamour are the sprinkling of movie stars - present and past-ex-cricketers, celebrities and persons of note in the Indian political firmament.

The incumbency factor has apparently not worked against Prime Minister Narendra Modi whose BJP is billed to end up as the largest party in the Lok Sabha but falling short of a majority. A survey in January showed the BJP and its allies ending up with 237 seats, shy by 35 seats to clear the hurdle of the magical 272 for a simple majority. Congress is forecast to bag 167 seats and regional parties, a thumping 143 seats.

The results of a poll conducted by The Hindu on Friday showed Modi leading by 43 percent of the vote as against 24 percent by Gandhi. This was quite at variance with the poll in January that showed Modi on the back foot, although still the front runner. The turnaround has been attributed by the commentators to the surge in Hindu nationalism following the recent events in Kashmir and Modi’s pro-active response that portrayed him to the nation as a strong leader able to ward off the military threat from Pakistan. The downing of a space satellite too added to the picture of Indian supremacy.

Apparently seizing on the voter mood, Modi began having as the main thrust of his campaign, the country’s defence where the troops occupied pride of place in the totem pole. He went further and appealed to all first time voters to vote for the BJP in the name of the soldiers who engaged in the dog fight on Pakistani territory as retaliation for the killing of 40 Indian paramilitary troopers in Kashmir, a comment which the Opposition has seized on to complain to the Election Commission which has banned references to the Security Forces during electioneering.

Yet for all the bright prospects awaiting Modi, according to some commentators there could yet be a slip betwixt the cup and the lip. The biggest problem dogging Modi is the alienation of the minorities from his Hindu First agenda. The strident nationalism that the Modi campaign assumed, particularly during the past few weeks, no doubt, has taken its toll and could well be the decisive factor in a tight race.

Already independent polls show a poor showing by Modi in Uttar Pradesh, the largest state that will send 80 members to the Assembly. The polls show Modi getting only 25 seats in UP, a far cry from the 73 seats he bagged in 2014. Two powerful parties representing India’s lower castes, as well as the minority Muslims, have joined forces in UP that could have a negative effect on BJP’s prospects. Added to this is the Ayodhya factor where the BJP has vowed to build a temple at the site of razed Barbri mosque, which is at the heart of the tension between Hindus and Muslims.

The prominent part played by the charismatic Priyanka Gandhi in the Congress campaign, no doubt, has united the party’s rank and file and injected life into a somewhat lackluster effort by brother Rahul. In any event it will be the regional parties which will be king-maker this time around for certain, with Modi clearly unable to recapture the magic of 2014 which gave his party a landslide victory. The promised jobs had failed to materialize and there is palpable disillusionment of youth at the Government’s failure in this respect. The farming community too had been left in the lurch and is unlikely to vote en masse for Modi as they did in 2014. A hung Parliament is the very likely outcome of this election as predicted by all the pollsters throwing open the doors for horse-trading.

How would the poll result impact on Sri Lanka? Of course there was Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Paneerselvam, a Jayalalithaa protégé, who had struck an alliance with the BJP typically raising the question of Tamils in Northern Sri Lanka and supporting the demand for a war crimes probe against the Lankan Forces. However, for the larger Indian State, that chapter is now long closed and relations between the two neighbours could not have been more cordial.

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