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Will Narendra Modi make it or break it?

The fate of candidates and parties will be decided on May 23 when the counting takes place
Kumkum Chadha
Will Narendra Modi make it or break it?

With the general elections announced in India, there is a surge in the political activity. The key question: will Prime Minister Narendra Modi make it or break it? Has the tension on the borders and a near war like situation helped arrest his electoral decline that was a matter of much discussion before the terrorists struck in Pulwama or has the euphoria passed and things are back to square one?
But first the elections and its nitty gritty beginning with the seven phases and controversy that the dates have generated.

The seven phase election will begin next month:  April 11 and conclude on May 23 in a seven phase poll. As many as 543 constituencies will go to the polls.
The fate of candidates and parties will be decided on May 23 when the counting takes place. This was announced by the Election Commission last Sunday.
Assembly polls in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, and Sikkim will also be held simultaneously. However, citing security reasons, the Election Commission said that elections for the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, will not be held along with the Lok Sabha.
With the announcement of the elections, the model code of conduct comes into effect. The code  bars the government from announcing any policies that may influence voters.

The phase I polls will be held in 91 Lok Sabha or parliamentary constituencies in a total of 20 states.

 The polling in phase II of the Lok Sabha election 2019 will be held on April 18. A total of 97 Lok Sabha constituencies spread across 13 states will be going to polls in the phase II.

The polling in phase III of the Lok Sabha elections will be held on April 23 in a total of 115 constituencies spread across 14 states will go to polls;polling for phase IV  has been scheduled for April 29 in  a total of 71 constituencies of nine states; the  fifth phase of polling will be on May 6 where polls will be conducted in 51 Lok Sabha constituencies spread across seven states; in the sixth phase, scheduled for May 12 polling will be held in 59 parliamentary constituencies spread across seven states.  

Voting in the last phase that is the seventh phase of the elections will be held on May 19 wherein 59 Lok Sabha constituencies spread across eight states will vote.

The Election Commission said that the NOTA option will also be available:  the abbreviation for None of the Above. The Supreme Court had in its September 27, 2013 judgment ruled that all the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) across India will have a NOTA option at the end of the list of parties. This would allow voters, who do not consider any of the candidates eligible to still cast their votes.

Counting will begin on May 23 at 8 am and results are expected to be announced the same day unless there are some last minute glitches which could delay the announcement. Last year the Madhya Pradesh Assembly election results were delayed due to re-counting in some constituencies. This time around there could be a repeat.

 Four states Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, and Odisha will also vote for new state governments along with the 17th Lok Sabha.

What has  raised hackles is the Election Commission’s decision not to have simultaneous assembly polls in Jammu and Kashmir due to constraints over availability of central forces .

This triggered an adverse reaction among political parties in Jammu and Kashmir.  Opposing the decision, former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, said that delaying assembly polls in the state was denying the basic rights to the people of the state to have a popular government.

But this was a minor spoke in the wheel because there were many other controversies that were waiting to erupt: the one about the dates, phases and the deviations. Aspersions have been cast on the EC’s neutrality in determining the dates .

For starters it is pointed out that Odisha will vote in four phases instead of two. It is common knowledge that BJP is eyeing Odisha and West Bengal and a staggered voting spread over several phases will help the Prime Minister to space his campaigning in these two states. That Modi is BJP’s biggest vote catcher is a given and the BJP would like to cash in on his charisma.  Therefore when  opposition parties are  charging the Election Commission of keeping the BJP’s convenience in mind while fixing the dates and phases it is not entirely baseless.

What has, however, raised hackles, is the schedule of West Bengal. It has also generated sharp reactions. As against 2014 when the state votes in five phases, this time around it will vote in all seven phases.

The ruling party the Trinamool Congress is understandably miffed with this decision and is pointing fingers at the Centre meddling with the Election Commission with the Union Government submitting a false report on the state’s law and order situation which led to the staggered election spread over seven phases.

Even while the Election Commission has yet to explain, if at all it chooses to, it cannot be denied that West Bengal has a history of violence during elections since the sixties. In the panchayat elections last year, opposition candidates had complained that violence and intimidation prevented many candidates from filing nominations.

There is yet another issue that is being raked up and that is about the polls overlapping with the holy month of Ramzan even though this is not the first time that this has happened. However in 2018 the Trinamool Congress had asked for a single phase poll on the plea that it was Ramzan and the Courts had to then step in.

 Some Muslim MPs have however  not give much credence to this on grounds that Muslims follow their regular routine even while fasting and hence Ramzan will not interfere with the polling pattern of the Muslims. In fact some have gone as far as saying that since the month is a holy one, Muslims will vote according to their faith and conscience and not get swayed or fall prey to temptation by political parties. Ramzan is clashing with the last two weeks of voting.

Opinion is also divided over whether Modi and the BJP can capture the nationalist euphoria post Pulwama. While the general feeling is that the country will pitch for Modi given that he is seen as a strong leader capable of taking on Pakistan, there is also a view that the nationalistic fervour has died down and Modi may not be able to cash in on it.

The best case scenario, according to a section is that the national sentiment can at best improveits tally by 40-50 seats but not entirely reverse the trend in Modi’s favour. Therefore on a rough calculation while BJP’s tally was veering around winning  mere 150 seats before Pulwama happened, after it, it may add another 40-odd seats.

This  section completely rules out the view held by the Modi camp that he has already won the elections. While there is a huge gap between perception and reality and the guessing game is on, the countdown has begun.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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