India readies to national polls

By Nava Thakuria 15 April 2019

Voters lined up at government school in Sector 27 early in the morning to cast their votes on April 11, 2019 in Noida, India.
Image credit: BBC

India, known as the largest democracy in the world, goes to national elections in which over 900 million voters will participate in the biggest electoral exercise through electronic voting machines (EVM), an unique experienced for the human race. The seven-phase general elections starting from 11 April to 19 May will send 543 public representatives to 17th Lok Sabha, the powerful lower house of Indian Parliament in New Delhi.

Election Commission of India (ECI), world’s most powerful electoral institution, had announced the national poll-schedule on 10 March 2019 and the electoral festival was kicked off for the over billion nation. After completion of fiver-year term in office, the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) will seek fresh mandate from the electorate, which would be clear on 23 May counting day itself.

NDA nominees in the polls will primarily face candidates approved by the Congress led coalition of recognized opposition political parties named United Progressive Alliance (UPA). The third front, a loose coalition of some regional political parties across the country, named Maha Gatbandhan, is expected to put challenges to both NDA and UPA candidates in selective Parliamentary constituencies.

In the last general elections, projected Prime Ministerial candidate of BJP (and present PM)   Narendra Modi did almost a magic that helped the nationalist party to win absolute majority with 282 Lok Sabha seats. NDA’s total tally increased up to 336 (out of the 545 where two members are nominated) in the 2014 national polls. On the other hand, the oldest party (Congress) shrank to 44 seats in the house of people’s representatives.

BJP’s aggression to once disturbed northeastern region of the country simply routed the Congress from any government in eight provinces (commonly known as State). Till 2014, the Congress used to have province governments in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. Now all the States including Tripura and Nagaland are ruled by ether BJP or its allies. The region, surrounded by Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet (China), Myanmar and Bangladesh, sends 25 members to Lok Sabha, but this time BJP leadership has taken the share very seriously. BJP president Amit Shah claims that his saffron party along with allies will win over 20 seats from the region. The Congress has not made any claim but maintained their candidates will do fairly well in the forthcoming polls.

Prime Minister Modi, the star poll-campaigner of BJP, keeps seeking votes for his developmental activities along with non-corrupt governance and security to the nation. Besides pledging for more roads, airports, and other infrastructures, he promised more jobs for the youths. At the same time, Modi maintained that they would continue various welfare programs like providing toilets, houses, cooking gas, crop insurance, loans for small businesses and also electricity connections.

On the other hand, the leadership of Congress party that ruled the populous south Asian country for over five decades since 1947 promised to make India a poverty free nation by 2030 with provisions of minimum income guarantee scheme, waving of peasant’s bank loan and creation of sustainable jobs. The party president Rahul Gandhi continues targeting PM Modi for failure in various aspects including in realizing the saffron leader’s earlier promise to create 10 million jobs every year for Indian nationals.

In eastern part, the Congress is expecting electoral benefits out of the ruling party’s much debated citizenship amendment bill (CAB), which sparked massive reaction among northeastern ethnic groups. Most of the people in northeast India opposed the saffron plan to welcome persecuted religious asylum seekers from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan, who had already entered the country before 31 December 2014.

CAB was successfully passed in Lok Sabha on 8 January and was soon scheduled for Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Indian Parliament so that it could be sent to the President of India for necessary endorsements. But it was not pushed forward by the Union (federal) government as the ruling party had no majority in Rajya Sabha. So the initiative to amend the law was lapsed with an embarrassment to the Hindu-centric party, which brought reliefs to all agitating leaders of the region and now the Congress wants to rip political benefits out of the CAB row.

Socio-political scenario of the country had changed dramatically with the 14 February Pulwama terror attack, where over 40 paramilitary soldiers lost their lives. Pakistan-based Islamist group Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) claimed responsibility for the assault, which sent a massive wave of pain & anger among millions of patriotic Indians.

Public sentiments against JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar and his promoter the Islamic Republic of Pakistan were fully materialized by Modi and the hardliner Prime Minister launched a verbal war over Islamabad. His assertion was followed by sudden aerial attacks in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province (PKP) locality on 26 February, where the Indian air-forces claimed to hit any JeM terror base.

Need not to mention that any major elections in northeast India was synonymous to violence perpetrated by insurgents, who had been fighting the Centre (New Delhi) for decades demanding self-rule to sovereignty. The separatist militant outfits even once dictated the people to avoid the electoral process as they asserted it as being a symbol of suppression by the colonial Indian forces.

Dreaded armed groups like United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) made it a habit to issue press statements threatening the electorate of dire consequences if they prefer to cast their votes. But the brave voters always exercised their franchises and hence lately the armed militants stopped issuing such statements. However, they secretly supported political party nominees in the polls.

But this time, both the factions of Ulfa have shown reluctance in intervening over the polls. When the pro-talk faction led by Arabindra Rajkhowa recently made it clear that they would not be a part of the electoral process, the other faction led by Paresh Barua maintained silence over their involvement. Rather Barua, while talking to local media from his secret shelter somewhere in Myanmar-China border, disclosed that they did a pre-poll survey where he saw BJP as a probable gainer.

Meanwhile, a large section of socio-cultural activists and also non-resident Indians, started campaigning against the present Modi led regime and urged the electorate to defeat him with a aim to ‘defend the constitution, democracy and human rights in India’. They in separate statements vehemently condemned Modi for ruining the country in the last five years using various means, where Muslims and Dalits continued to be unsafe.

“The BJP government has also been responsible for systematic erosion and weakening of democratic values and institutions like Reserve Bank of India, Central Bureau of Investigation, Election Commission of India etc. Conscious people of the country should take it as their call,” said a statement from a group of USA based NRIs.

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