Indians Vote in greatest show on earth

 Indians Vote in greatest show on earth
Photo : PM Narendra Modi

Hundreds of millions of Indians voted in five phases of balloting so far. Two phases remain – one this Sunday and one the following Sunday to complete the process.  This is the greatest electoral show on earth. No country has a larger electorate or allow democracy like India. While the election is going on, opinion polls are prohibited from publication. Exit polls will be published on the evening of the last phase of voting on may 19. This writer has solicited views on the outcome. 

The general election has been billed as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The campaign takes the form of a Presidential election. Modi's nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a historic landslide in the last elections in 2014, the first majority government by a party since 1984 when Rajiv Gandhi won a landslide on a sympathy vote for his mother Indira who was assassinated.

Modi staked his claim in 2014 to lead India on a tough image against terrorism and a truly secular government without favoring any religious or caste group. He has been tough against those who infiltrated the porous border of India to spread terror. Modi ordered surgical strike against camps in Pakistan. His action won overwhelming approval from the nation.

In India, people generally vote against the incumbent. Most of the incumbent MPs of the BJP are disliked. But voters tell this writer they want to give Modi a second term. Thus, they will vote for the incumbent on account of Modi who remains the BJP's main vote-getter.

Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram

Modi is campaigning everywhere on behalf of the candidates of his party, the BJP which is in an alliance with other parties called the NDA. The largest opposition party is the Congress which is in an alliance with other parties called the UPA. Sworn enemies have come together to defeat Modi. But opinion polls put the NDA ahead of the UPA by almost two to one. However, the polls say the NDA will not win a majority of the seats. It takes 272 seats to form the government in a parliament of 543 elected members of the lower house or Lok Sabha.  This writer, in his own informal polls, put Modi ahead of the Congress and is likely to come close to a majority of seats giving him a second five year term in office. The [roblem facing the BJP is the mini-alliance being formed in every state to reduce the number of seats the BJP wins. Without an alliance, the BJP would have won over 300 seats. As it is now, the party is struggling to capture 250 seats.  The BJP won 283 seats in last election.

The seven-phase elections commenced on 19 April and concludes on the 19 May. Counting of ballots is 23 May. There are some 970 million eligible voters across the country. This is the largest election ever conducted in the world.

The tone of the campaign has been acrimonious especially against the opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi and two of his alliance partners Akilesh Yadav of SP and Mayawati of BSP.

The BJP faces strong challenges from regional parties in the South and in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi, has been trying to bring together the parties to form a coalition to unseat Modi. Rahul’s father (Rajiv), grandmother (Indira) and great-grandfather (Jawaharlal Nehru) were all Indian prime ministers. His mother, the Italian born Sonia, declined the PM position in 2004. Rahul, himself, declined the PM position in 2009. His sister, Priyanka Gandhi, formally launched her political career in January. She is not contesting a seat although it was announced she would contest against Modi. Had she done so, she would have been trounced. Modi is contesting in the prestigious Benaras seat. This writer’s poll has him well ahead to win by a landslide. Priyanka is campaigning for his brother and mother, Sonia, who is contesting a seat Rae Bareli, from Uttar Pradesh, the state where 70 percent of Indo-Caribbeans trace their roots. Rahul is also contesting from UP in Amethi constituency. Fearing he would lose, Rahul fielded himself in a second seat in Kerala state. In India, a candidate can run for more than one seat but can only represent one seat in parliament and resign the others if elected from more than one. 

The Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament, has 543 elected seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government. Polls show Rahul losing Amethi. But this writer found from his survey that Rahul will win Amethi and in Kerla as well.

The main issues in the campaign are high unemployment, national security, and India's role in world affairs.

Caste and religion also play a critical role in how people vote.  Chamars, called dalits in India, are voting for a low caste party called BSP led by Mayawati. The Yadav cast is voting for the Yadav party called SP. At Friday namaz before each vote, imams instruct Muslims to vote for the party they feel will defeat the BJP. But Muslims are divided with women supporting BJP because the party has given women equal status to that of Muslim males making the latter upset. In addition, the BJP has sought to outlaw multiple marriages and triple talaq divorce in which a man simply tells his wife he divorces her. It is hard to predict the exact number of seats each alliance will win. But the NDA will return to iffice for another term unless something major goes wrong.