New Delhi: It is lights, camera and action with the Election Commission of India Sunday announcing the dates for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, scheduled to be held in seven phases beginning on 11 April.
The election results will be declared on 23 May.
Polling for the first phase will be held on 11 April while the second phase will be on 18 April, the third on 23 April and the fourth on 29 April. The polling for the remaining three phases will be held on 6 May, 12 May and 19 May.
Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora Sunday said 91 constituencies in 20 states will vote in Phase 1 while 97 constituencies in 13 states will vote in Phase 2. 115 constituencies in 14 states will vote in Phase 3 while 71 constituencies in 9 states will vote in Phase 4.
Phase 5 will see 51 constituencies in 7 states go to the polls, while Phase will have voting in 59 constituencies in 7 states. The last phase will see voting in 59 seats in 8 states.
The EC commissioner further said that Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal will see polls in seven phases. Jammu and Kashmir will witness elections in five phases while states going to polls in four phases include Jharkhand, MP, Maharashtra and Odisha.
Assam and Chhattisgarh will see three-phase polls while elections in Karnataka, Manipur, Rajasthan and Tripura will be held in two phases.
All the remaining states and union territories will witness elections in one phase.
A high-stakes elections this time around
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power with a decisive mandate, winning 282 of the 543 seats, with the Congress being reduced to a humiliating 44 seats. Among the regional parties, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress won 34 seats, while Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal bagged 20.
The 2019 polls come in the backdrop of increasing bitterness between the opposition parties and Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP with the former targeting the government on a host of issues — from lack of job creation to agrarian crisis and allegations of corruption in the Rafale deal.
However, with the 14-February terror attack in Pulwama and the retaliatory air strikes conducted by the Indian Air Force on terror camps in Pakistan’s Balakot on 26 February, the political discourse has been focused on the issue of national security.
From key narratives, to crucial states as well as the big alliance question are what will dominate, and even influence, the upcoming election.
The Modi government came to power riding on a slew of promises and tapping into the aspirations of both urban and rural India. Over four and a half years down the line, the government’s performance has been a mixed bag.
The BJP’s electoral success in 2014, its coming to power in several states since and the thumping victory in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh assembly polls made the party appear as an election-winning machine.
However, some crucial bypoll losses as well as defeats in important states, including in the heartland, have taken off some sheen.
For the opposition, especially the Congress, the focus has been on questioning the government over alleged corruption in the Rafale deal, while attacking it for lack of job creation, a slowing economy, poor policy decisions like demonetisation and agrarian distress.
The BJP, meanwhile, has tried to follow a three-pronged approach — talk about its slew of welfare initiatives to project a pro-poor image, raise the pitch on national security through a multitude of issues and also look at playing its favourite Hindutva card, reflected in its push for the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
However, with the Pulwama attack and the subsequent Balakot airstrikes, BJP is attempting to streamline the narrative of national security and ensure the discourse remains focused on that. The party has an edge on this count with PM Modi’s efforts to use his image of being a “decisive” leader and of BJP’s muscular approach to claim it is his government that can protect the nation.
The opposition, meanwhile, has been accusing BJP of “politicising” issues of national security, and will continue to step up its efforts to target Modi on corruption and non-deliverance.
Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha, was instrumental in catapulting the BJP to power in 2014, giving its 71 MPs. This will be the most keenly watched state this elections as well, especially with the BJP having lost crucial bypolls there and with the opposition — including Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) — forging an alliance.
The heartland states, especially Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, are crucial for BJP given it did exceedingly well here in 2014 but lost the 2018 assembly elections.
If Congress wants to bounce back with respectable numbers, both states, which it now rules, are also important for the party.
West Bengal and Odisha, which send 42 and 21 MPs respectively, are also to watch out for. The BJP has been trying to gain presence in these states, but strong regional parties continue to dominate.
How much the BJP can increase its seats in these regions, and also the northeast, will also be important for the opposition, which is trying to forge a grand alliance against BJP.
In the south, where BJP has little presence beyond Karnataka, alliances as well as the performance of the entrenched regional parties are going to be critical to what happens after the polls.
While the opposition has been attempting to cobble together a loose coalition against the BJP, it has ended up yielding more noise than actual results. The attempts have seen increasingly clumsy and incoherent, with each party standing for a different interest.
In Uttar Pradesh, while the SP and BSP have come together, the Congress has said it will fight alone. In another instance, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress will not fight together in Delhi.
However, while no pan-national opposition pre-poll alliance seems feasible, the smaller state-wise alliances will matter.
The BJP meanwhile, after initially losing allies like the Telugu Desam Party and the Asom Gana Parishad, seems to have finally got its act together.
After fixing the alliance in Bihar by agreeing to a compromise, it managed to seal the deal with difficult allies like the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and Akali Dal in Punjab. It has also allied with the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) in Tamil Nadu.
Some parties, meanwhile, have maintained equidistance from both the BJP and “grand alliance” camp — notably BJD and Jagan Reddy’s YSR Congress.
How each alliance — big or small — fares, as well as what kind of post-poll alliances can be managed will be an important determinant of what happens next.
- The copy has been updated to include the break-up of the phases.
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