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Voters’ silence giving sleepless nights to all political parties, candidates

By Varinder Singh
Executive Editor

The stoic and stony silence of a majority of voters keeps leaders and candidates of major political parties baffled. They are leaving no stone unturned to woo the electors amid fears that the obvious lack of national issues could make this election a lacklusture affair. The emerging trend of increased number of turncoats, organizational and inter-party rivalries, ‘Opportunistic’ last minute alliances, vexed local equations, caste or sub-caste politics are among myriad factors which, have become more or less of a
headache for major and regional parties alike. What is more interesting is that unlike previous polls, ground level issues –actually affecting common people like burgeoning unemployment, inflation, dipping industrial and service sector growth rate– are hardly touched by major political parties towards
the end of fifth phase of the polls. Rather, they are drumming up issues with overly emotional overtones and the likes of “Taking control of POK in three months” on one hand and rhetoric like their “Ongoing fight to save the Constitution and reservation” on the other.

There are confusing claims and counter claims that religious overtones have or have not shadowed the 2024 Parliamentary polls. The narrative that the Narendra Modi led NDA and the RSS are “Worried” that the “Pran Pratishtha “ at Ayodhya has not been embraced by people notwithstanding, the repeated invocation of Lord Rama has obviously left an imprint largely on the minds of a section of voters. This undercurrent is observed right from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh to Uttrakhand and even in Didi’s bastion– West Bengal to an extent.

It is however, a different matter that the Congress-led opposition has been trying to tear apart the BJP claims on the stages and in rallies by attributing it as an outcome of a court verdict. “Modi has nothing to do with the temple, it is the 2019 Apex Court verdict which led to construction of the temple,” claim a
myriad of India Block leaders every off and on. With more than 1.4 billion people, 969 million voters-more than 10 percent of world’s population and approximately 70 percent of India’s total population- over 2600 National and regional parties, the country is heading for a mammoth election exercise.

The seven phase voting process-being carried out with a whopping estimated cost of $ 17,755,200,000 (CAD) or 1.2 Trillion Rupees (INR) which, is almost double than what was spent to carry out the 2019 Parliamentary Election process. With the concluding of polls in 486 of a total of 543 seats in the penultimate sixth phase, the process of exercising of their franchise by voters on May 25 say a 63.36 percent voter turn out. In the crucial sixth phase 58 seats in eight states and UTs went to polls on Saturday.

The mammoth polling process will be wrapped up on June 1, when voters of 57 constituencies across eight states including, Punjab, will decide the future of their law-makers. The sixth phase of Parliamentary elections was held on 13 seats in Maharashtra, 14 in Uttar Pradesh, 7 in West Bengal, 5 in Bihar, three in Jharkhand, 5 in Odisha, and one each in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh regions. What has however, enchanted the Election Commission of India is the increase in the voter turn-out of 63.36 percent in the sixth phase as the turn out in the fifth phase was said to lowest of the six at around 57.38 percent. Increased turn out is considered to be a healthy sign for the World’s largest democracy.

The 2019 general elections however, had witnessed a total turnout of 67.4 percent which, means this time the total turnout is likely to improve way more than the previous elections. Now, all eyes are set on seventh phase or the last phase of elections in India to be held on June 1. As many as, 57 parliamentary constituencies across eight states and UTs will witness voting on June 1. A total of 904 candidates are in the fray in the seventh phase. A total of 13 seats each in each of Punjab and U.P, Nine seats in West Bengal, eight in Bihar, six in Odisha, four in Himachal Pradesh, three in Jharkhand and seat in UT of Chandigarh will go the polls in the last phase.

Key candidates in the phase 7 of the Lok Sabha polls are PM Narendra Modi, BJP’s Kangna Ranau, NC’c Omar Abdullah, Congress’ Ajay Rai, Charanjit Singh Channi, former Punjab Chief Minister, Punjab and Harsimrat Kaur Badal, wife of former Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.

The Lok Sabha elections are being held in seven phases: April 19, followed by April 26, May 7, May 13, May 20, May 25, and June 1. The votes will be counted on June 4.

While the eager weavers or aspiring MP candidates are organising foot marches, public meetings, door-to-door campaigns, road shows to touch the hearts of a majority of voters, a majority of voters are or have not shown much interest openly as they are keeping their cards close to their chests. This first-time trend has not only baffled the candidates but, has caused headache for all major national parties like the BJP, The Congress, the AAP, Trinamool Congress , Samajwadi Party, NCP, both factions of the Shiv Sena or broadly the strategists of the India Bloc and the NDA.

The general lackadaisical approach of a majority of big political parties in promising and pushing of any populist and grassroot level agendas like removal of unemployment and poverty, promising of development of cities and villages and a better infrastructure has made voters more or less indifferent towards the political parties. The parties and candidates seem to be “agenda less” for the first time in India. On the other hand, the voters too—with Punjab’s farmers’ unions as an exception—are hardly seen questioning or confronting candidates or parties on these issues.

If the “late starter” Congress-led alliance has its promised disbursal of 10 kilogram ration amongst each of the poor families of India, the BJP is trying to touch the nerves of people with a limited number of emotional issues and by making statements against Pakistan. The Prime Minister Narendra Modi had however, had initially promised to introduce a new common civil code and creation of jobs through investment. On the other hand, India Block leaders like Rahul Gandhi has been making the voters understand how important it is to “save the constitution and reservation in India.” Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which, is a major part of the India Block too is trying to entice regional voters by showcasing its “good governance model” in Delhi and Punjab and on the national level by accusing the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP for seeking more than 400 seats “with an objective to change the constitution of India and end the reservation in jobs.”

He is also seen asking people in Punjab—where the AAP is not a part of the India Block or Congress-led alliance—to vote for his party if they wanted him not to go to jail again. Of course, the BJP or the NDA has so far, emerged a front-runner and these issues are attracting a section of voters not only in Hindi belt but, also in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, certain parts of South and North East. The BJP-led NDA is seemingly going strong at national level due to its touching of sensitive emotional issues and it is most likely to garner at least the 272 plus magical number of seats out of a total of 543 seats.

In the end and in one or the other way, the NDA is likely to form the government. Despite the very good start, the Modi-led NDA’s mass support as well as its campaign strength is seen as waning by the end of fifth phase of polling if the decreasing number of people in Modi’s rallies and a few poll surveys are any indication. Towards the end of fifth phase, the campaign of India Bloc leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav and Arvind Kejriwal started gaining momentum by each passing day and a tilt of voters is apparent. Some poll surveys have sounded a warning well for the NDA stating the alliance or the BJP might have to settle anywhere between 296-300 seats—a much lower initial number than of 307-310. As per the grey market estimates, the India Bloc appears to be getting 62-72 seats. The Modi led BJP and NDA might even spring a surprise by garnering seats in the range of 300-340 easily on in case, if it is able to maintain its initial momentum and dominance in the Hindi belt, eight states and Union Territories—slight short of 353 seats won by the alliance in 2019.

Even as, achieving its much-cherished “400 Ke Paar” slogan might be a distant dream, the NDA does not appear to be repeating its 2019 mark of 353 sets. The alliance with its partners could corner around 30 of 48 seats in Maharashtra and 18-20 seats in West Bengal. In West Bengal TMC has slight edge over the BJP which, could win 18-20 seats out of a total of 42. The BJP is said to be in a position to turn the tables in the Mamta Banerjee-led WB mainly due to “polarisation” of votes this time. In Gujrat, the BJP could sway by cornering close to all of 26 seats. The opposition India Bloc is likely to hover between 90-125 seats as compared to 91 seats cornered by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2019 when the Indian National Congress could claim just 52 seats while other parties had won 98 seats. The Congress-led alliance can stage a gain in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Telangana. Anti-incumbency is likely to cripple the BJP partly in certain pockets of Northern India and Central India and even in the BJP ruled states of Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan.

It is a different matter that consolidation of votes which, seems to be over-shadowing the real ground level issues of people, could make the BJP led NDA emerge as a winner in the race for power. The NDA could fetch anywhere between 273 and 300 seats and form the next government easily. The same spectre of anti-incumbency along with performance of its MLAs in a majority of constituencies is likely to hit the AAP largely in Punjab and to some extent in Delhi. The BJP is likely to have some gain in down south and in the North East. The Congress and its INDIA block is hoping to make gains in Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra, Haryana and Bihar where it seems to be confident to give a strong fight to the Modi-led NDA government.

Punjab is likely to spring a mixed bag for all stake holders. The Congress however, seems to be emerging as a party with edge in Punjab largely due to positioning of prominent faces and partly owing to the “anti-incumbency” factor playing against the Bhagwant Maan government. The Congress is likely to fetch 4-6 seats whereas, while the BJP might have to satisfy itself with 1-2 seats and the AAP tally could be anywhere around 4-5 seats. The Congress could afford no room for complacency as it is affected by infighting. The SAD which, is witnessing large-scale infighting could win one seat in Bathinda and a maximum of two if the “turncoat” factor fails to work in Amritsar where its candidate and former BJP minister Anil Joshi seems to have a ‘good rapport’ with people.

One seat could go to an independent candidate. Former Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Channi stands good chances in Congress’ traditional citadel—Jalandhar. People are questioning the performance of the AAP MLAs and the number of ‘turn coats’ in the fray in Punjab even as, a large section of the voters is hugely enamoured by AAP offered freebies like free electricity to households with a limit of up to 600 units in the state. On the other hand, the BJP candidates are facing vehement opposition from farmers’ bodies in rural areas of Punjab. The farmers’ bodies are seemingly the only bunch which, is raising issues accusing the ruling BJP of “harming” of farming sector, small trade and for “promoting” the interests of the big corporates. Farmers are protesting by way of not allowing the BJP candidates to enter in the rural areas and by erecting parallel stages to that of the BJP contestants.

The candidates in Punjab and elsewhere in North India have been travelling and slogging in the sweltering heat to be able to occupy the coveted Lok Sabha seats. Still, a considerable number of voters have not shown much enthusiasm, which is giving sleepless nights to those vying for victory. This election lacks emotion as a majority of voters have kept their cards close to their chest instead of coming out in support of any given party, ruling or opposition. The observers point out that there is no clear wave in favour of or against any political party as of now, though the under currents seem to be favouring the Congress. Anti-incumbency is impairing the chances of the BJP and the JJP candidates as they are facing opposition from voters especially in rural areas of Haryana.

It is a different matter that the BJP and JJP leadership claim they are in good standing in the state. Amid confusion, promises, claims and counter-claims, a sense of “unease” over doing of “Hindu Muslim,” rhetoric of “changing of constitution, showering of promises of freebies, the voter still remains to be a king. It is to be seen which, ways the voter sways as all eyes are set on the poll outcome on June 4.

Varinder Singh is the Executive Editor of Canada’s largest South Asian Y-Media Group.

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