India’s general elections enter crucial stage

Special India’s general elections enter crucial stage
Indian voters stand in a queue to cast their vote at a polling station in Mumbai on April 29, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 29 April 2019

India’s general elections enter crucial stage

India’s general elections enter crucial stage
  • The resurgent Congress and a strategic alliance among different regional parties pose a formidable challenge to the BJP in most states
  • Three more phases of polling in the Indian elections remain

NEW DELHI: India’s general elections on Monday entered a crucial stage with the fourth round of polls taking place in areas where the majority of seats are held by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its alliance partners.

Of the 71 seats being contested in nine states, 56 are in the hands of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), while two are with the opposition Congress party.

In 2014, the BJP dominated in most of the big states in north, east, central and western India with the party bagging 240 out of 282 seats which it had won from eight out of 29 states. With the support of its allies, the NDA has strength of 322 in the house of 543 in the outgoing Parliament.

The resurgent Congress and a strategic alliance among different regional parties pose a formidable challenge to the BJP in most states.

In the biggest Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, 13 seats are at stake in the fourth phase. The BJP won 73 out of 80 parliamentary seats in the state in 2014. With the coming together of two strong regional parties – Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) – the Hindu right-wing alliance faces a daunting task to retain the majority of its seats. Most opinion polls and political analysts predict the BJP could lose up to 40 seats in the state.

Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan – the central and northern Indian states where the BJP won 63 out of 65 seats last time – are seen as tough nuts to crack for the BJP this year with the momentum still with Congress after winning assembly elections there in December last year.

Similarly, in the big western Indian state of Maharashtra where 17 seats went to poll on Monday, the BJP had won 42 out of 48 seats in 2014. With the state witnessing farmers’ protests in recent years, and rural distress, it will be an uphill task for the NDA to repeat its successes of the last elections.

In the eastern Indian state of Bihar — where five seats were on the radar on Monday — the BJP and its partners are facing a stiff challenge from a Congress-led grouping comprising of small regional parties. The BJP won 32 out 40 seats in the last elections there, but in a changed political climate five years down the line, analysts say that the ruling party might lose a significant number of seats.

To compensate for the possible losses in its strongholds, the BJP is making an aggressive push to expand its presence in the eastern Indian states of Orissa and West Bengal, which represent a combined 70 seats in the Lower House of Parliament.

“Political arithmetic has changed in the last five years,” said Bihar-based political analyst, Pawan Pratay.

“Regional parties representing different caste groups have formed alliances with the Congress, and they will play a big role in deciding the outcome of this year’s elections,” Pratay told Arab News.

Pratay added: “In 2014 there was a wave in favor of Prime Minister Narendra Modi but in this election Modi, despite being popular, faces an anti-incumbency factor and a new political alliance. Therefore, repeating the old performance would be a difficult feat for the BJP.”

Lucknow-based senior political analyst, Ram Dutt Tripathi, said: “Though the popularity of Modi is still intact, a strong section of voters is not happy. Besides, the Congress is at a resurgent state after the victory of the party in three crucial states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan a few months ago, so the BJP cannot take the election for granted.

“The Prime Minister tried to change the agenda from development to national security, and attempted to polarize the voters, but its impact is only visible in some urban areas. The BJP knows it is not going to repeat the 2014 performance. It is therefore trying hard to make inroads in new territories in the eastern Indian states of West Bengal and Orissa. But they won’t get many seats from there,” Tripathi told Arab News.

“Realizing that they are going to fall short of a majority, the BJP is approaching new regional parties behind the scenes. There is also a feeling that some of the BJP allies might ditch the party if the ruling party falls short of a majority,” the analyst added.

“In the event of there being a hung parliament then the Congress party will play a crucial role,” said Tripathi.

Three more phases of polling in the Indian elections remain. Voting ends on May 19 and the results will be announced on May 23.