New Delhi: The spread-out, seven-phase Lok Sabha poll schedule — which will see three states voting in all phases and as many as four voting in four phases — has raised questions about the need for such a structure, and whether the design and combination of states and phases could actually help the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
According to the schedule, announced by the Election Commission of India Sunday, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar will vote in all seven phases. In the nine-phase 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar voted in six phases and West Bengal voted in five.
While this time Jammu & Kashmir will vote in five phases, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra will vote in four. In 2014, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra voted in three phases and Odisha in two.
The EC has attributed multiple phases in a particular states to logistical and security concerns. However, while the 2014 Lok Sabha poll was held in more phases, the choice of states going in for multi-phase polling this time, the number of phases allotted for them and the dates picked have led experts to believe “there is more than what meets the eye”.
The BJP believes Prime Minister Narendra Modi is its trump card, and would like to use him to the hilt, ensuring he campaigns in as many regions as possible, particularly those where the BJP wants to enhance its chances and maximise gains.
In West Bengal and Odisha, for instance, which have 42 and 21 Lok Sabha seats respectively, the BJP has been trying to make inroads, hoping for enough gains to compensate for potential losses elsewhere. In Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha and where the BJP won as many as 71 seats in 2014, the party wants to plan its strategy cautiously to be able to counter the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance, and minimise its losses.
However, a state like Tamil Nadu, which has 39 seats, and Andhra Pradesh, which has 25, will vote in just one phase.
The BJP also believes Modi is popular in the heartland states as well as in the west, and is getting increasingly so in states like West Bengal, Odisha and Assam, and so, would like to use him most in these. However, in states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh, among others, where the PM isn’t a vote-catcher, the BJP knows it can’t do much.
“We cannot say for sure whether this will help the BJP, but there is a clear pattern. All states where BJP has no or very little stake — like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh etc — are going to vote in a single phase,” said Sanjay Kumar, director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
“The second category of states voting in one phase are those where BJP is confident and where it feels the fight is not tough, like Gujarat, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand,” he added.
“But states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Assam, Odisha and Jharkhand, which vote in multiple phases, are those where the party does have challenges, whether in the form of a strong opposition alliance or other factors.”
Suhas Palshikar, academic and political scientist, added: “It looks like a regular schedule, since in 2014 as well, the polls were held in many phases. However, the difference is that even in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra etc., which do not require so many phases, a multi-phased poll has been scheduled.
“Hence, the usual argument that this has been done for logistical purposes or because of troop movement does not cut any ice. This, in fact, lends credence to the idea that there is more than what meets the eye.”
Also read: These are the four states that will have assembly elections along with Lok Sabha polls
Boost to campaigning
The number of phases in crucial states mean there would be multiple times when one constituency is voting and a top leader’s rally is being conducted in a nearby seat that votes later. Given the BJP remains confident about PM Modi’s popularity, analysts believe this means the party can use his rallies to influence voting behaviour even if the campaign period in a particular constituency is over.
“Imagine this scenario, no rule prevents a senior leader from campaigning in a constituency that is not going to polls in that phase, even if it is neighbouring one that is. For instance, say in Bihar, where in each phase 4-5 seats vote, if a top leader holds a big rally in a constituency which is not voting then but shares borders with one that is, it will obviously have an impact. Hence, given there are seven phases, this can happen as many as six times,” Kumar said.
Besides its top leaders, the BJP relies heavily on its well-oiled election machinery and cadre, and experts believe the schedule could help the party maximise on both these counts.
“It can help the BJP in two ways. One, it will enable its top leaders to spread out their rallies and campaigning. And two, this means the party can move its more capable and trusted cadre within a state,” said Palshikar.
BJP calls it ‘normal’, Congress cautious
The BJP has denied the charge that the poll schedule can help it in any form, and said this was “normal”.
“How will it help, in what form can it help? Some people are saying it might benefit us since Muslims have their roza (fast during the month of Ramadan). But then Hindus have a fast every week on some day or the other. Even the nine-day Navratri, when Hindus fast, will also fall in this period. In fact, PM Modi also fasts then and survives only on water. He has to campaign across country, imagine how he will do it,” said BJP national spokesperson Bizay Sonkar Shastri.
“This is a normal schedule. Last time also it was multi-phased and, in fact, had more phases but nobody said anything. These things are being spread by those worried about Modiji’s popularity and the government’s work.”
The Congress, meanwhile, is adopting a cautious approach.
“The Election Commission of India has to discharge its duty in the best suited manner, and in a free and fair way, so no side gets advantage. They know how to do their job well. We won’t cast any aspersions,” said Priyanka Chaturvedi, convenor of the Congress communications department and national spokesperson.
Also read: Seven-phase 2019 Lok Sabha polls from 11 April, results out on 23 May
The flip side of the argument is that this actually hurts the BJP, since it makes the contests more local and less national. Modi’s advantage in national media coverage would have had more benefit in a shorter schedule, especially in each of the large states like UP. Moreover, the stamina needed for him to campaign non-stop for 7 weeks criss-crossing the country is huge. The opposition has largely regional leaders – a long drawn out multi phase election in large states actually benefits the regional parties. Unless, one pre-supposes that Modi is fighting this election as if it will be largely bereft of national issues ! That would make little sense… especially after the increased importance of national security.
I blame the aliens from Mars hired by BJP. The probe sent to Mars by the government was nothing but kickbacks!!
When each rally – virtually – is telecast live to a national audience, the content of the speech is broadly similar, not sure if so many campaign appearances can be a game changer.
Get a life, dear author. From headline jumped to make this comment — and safely skipped everything in between. ROFLMAO
Get some brains, dear Ramu, and try to be analytical – but why would you? you are probably paid by you-know-who to troll all who dare to question the (dark)lord.
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