Elections in India

Published April 21, 2024

INDIA’S mammoth multi-stage elections have begun and the popular issues gripping the voters this time are unemployment, inflation and related economic despair.

This is far removed from the divisive polls of 2014 and 2019, and it is not because pro-Hindutva campaigners are not trying to kindle the fires of communalism. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has personally signalled the intent by using an election speech to attack opposition leaders as Mughal-like meat-eaters, not just ordinary lovers of mutton and fish.

Despite the enormous funds and the hard advertising put into it, the controversial Ram temple inauguration is being listed by analysts as way down in the voters’ list of priorities. The perceptible absence of polarisation — usually derived from Muslim-bashing, often by falsely conjuring a Pakistan link — could bring surprises when votes are counted on June 4.

Consider the case of Navneet Rana, a feisty woman candidate for the BJP from Amravati in Maharashtra. She has been unfailingly reminding her supporters to not rest on their oars in the delusion that there is a Modi wave, or that he would see her through. “There is no Modi wave this time. Stay very vigilant.” The Rana video is not the only call to toil for BJP supporters.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is a member of the Rajya Sabha and she has been quoted as turning down the BJP’s offer to fight the Lok Sabha polls, saying she simply did not have the kind of money needed for the elections. This is being seen as an oblique criticism of the electoral bonds scam in which the BJP was a major beneficiary.

Ms Sitharaman is tame compared with her political economist husband Parakala Prabhakar. His book The Crooked Timber of New India: Essays on a Republic in Crisis is a critique of the Modi years and has predictably baffled many. Mr Prabhakar has claimed in TV interviews there would be no constitution if Mr Modi returned to power. However, he also predicts that the BJP would not cross 200 seats, 72 short of the halfway mark. Similar claims have been made by Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders.

Independent accounts by online media outlets and spot reports circulating on the alternative media channels are at variance with Modi-friendly TV anchors and they do not see easy victory for the prime minister.

Parallel accounts share much with the reliable pre-poll survey by the Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Even as it places Mr Modi ahead of any rival for the top job, the survey lists issues in the elections that make him vulnerable. Barring a game-changing event like Pulwama or the Muzaffarnagar riots, these Indian elections look poised to surprise everyone in the fray and in the galleries.

Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2024

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