Indian polls start without Modi wave

Published April 20, 2024
VOTERS queue up to cast their ballot outside a polling station in Madartoli village of Hojai district of Assam state, on Friday.—AFP
VOTERS queue up to cast their ballot outside a polling station in Madartoli village of Hojai district of Assam state, on Friday.—AFP

NEW DELHI: Elections to the 18th Lok Sabha kicked off on Friday across 21 Indian states covering 102 seats of the 545-member house, and although voters queued up in searing heat across much of the country to record an overall voting of over 60 per cent, absent from the fray was any sign of a Modi wave.

The first of the seven-phase polls saw eight seats in the politically crucial western Uttar Pradesh in the contest. The state sends 80 MPs and is regarded as a must-win for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid for a third consecutive term.

His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had grabbed 62 of the seats in 2019, mainly riding the military standoff with Pakistan, which he exploited with posters seeking votes in the name of the army.

The 2014 elections were buoyed by the communal polarisation instigated in Muzaffarnagar with false stories of Muslims abducting Hindu girls. This time the key BJP plank of Ram temple in Ayodhya has evidently failed to enthuse the voters. Moreover, this time around the Jat community of farmers that stood with the BJP is standing in solidarity with fellow farmers in Haryana and Punjab fighting for rights promised by the Modi government but never implemented.

In the first phase, polling held for 102 seats of 545-member Lok Sabha

A discussion in Bijnor by The Wire news portal with a mix of religious and caste representatives revealed a marked absence of a Modi wave. The ‘wave’ delivered him victories in the most populous state, including his own constituency of Varanasi. Now, a Brahmin interlocutor in the discussion described himself as a hardcore supporter of the BJP who would not vote for the party this time.

His young son too will not vote for Mr Modi, citing corruption in the electoral bond scheme and the jailing of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.

The wife would not vote for Mr Modi over price hike, he said.

A triangular contest in western Uttar Pradesh involves the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of former Dalit state chief minister Mayawati, the Samajwadi Party of the INDIA opposition cluster and the BJP. Ms Mayawati’s decision to go it on her own could damage INDIA candidates in western UP, and that rather than a Modi surge could deliver him several of the seats, though not all.

According to The Indian Express, which filed a spot report from Rajasthan by Neerja Chowdhury, “unlike the last two general elections, when the BJP swept Rajasthan, this time a contest is a possibility in nine to 10 Lok Sabha constituencies”.

An entrepreneur at Mandaava, in Jhunjhunu, told Express: “Had Modi not been there, it would have been difficult for the BJP to win. This time, there is no junoon (enthusiasm).”

A BJP leader articulated the sense on the ground, saying; “It may not change the direction of the wind, but shifts are being felt this time.”

This is how a political observer was quoted as describing it: “When you look at it closely, these fights do not reflect a fight between the BJP and the Congress nationally. It is a heavyweight candidate or a local group rivalry that seems to be overtaking the Modi factor, converting it into a takkar (contest).”

In the last two general elections — which the BJP swept, winning 25 out of 25 seats in Rajasthan — the Modi factor was able to subsume these local issues and may yet do so in many constituencies. “Modi thoda struggle mein aa gaye hain (Modi is struggling a little),” said a shopkeeper, a pro-BJP Brahmin manning a shop near the famous Khatu Shyamji Mandir in Sikar district, where, in the middle of a hot afternoon, hundreds of devotees were trying to catch a glimpse of the highly revered local deity.

Clash, bomb blast

West Bengal has elections in all seven phases, ending with the last on June 1. It recorded a turnout of 66.34pc till 3pm. However, polling was marred by violence in the Cooch Behar seat, The Hindu said. Both the TMC and the BJP clashed and lodged 80 and 39 complaints against each other respectively related to poll violence, voter intimidation, and assaults on poll agents, sources from both parties said.

In strife-torn Manipur, around 63.03pc of the over 1.544 million voters exercised their franchise till 3pm. In Chhattisgarh, more than 58pc of the electorate cast their votes in the first four hours of polling in the Naxal-hit Bastar Lok Sabha constituency where an assistant commandant of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was killed when an improvised explosive device planted by Naxalites went off in Bijapur district.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2024

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