India Gears for Its 17th General (Lok Sabha) Elections
The Election Commission of India announced the schedule for the 2019 Indian General Elections to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha, or the lower house of India’s bicameral parliament, on Sunday, March 10. The election will bring around 900 million eligible voters to about 1 million polling stations across the country between April 11 and May 19.
The electorate will directly elect candidates who would fill 543 seats - representing the 543 territorial constituencies of the country- out of the 545 in the Lok Sabha for a five-year term until 2024. The election commissioner of India, Sunil Arora, announced that the 2019 General Elections will be held over a span of seven phases.
To form the central government in India, a party/alliance needs 272 seats in the Lok Sabha. The 2019 general elections are largely a contest between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), a grouping of center-right to right-wing parties, and the Indian National Congress (INC) led United Progressive Alliance (UPA), grouping parties aligned center to left.
However, next month’s elections would also witness the rise of a third political front apart from the NDA and the UPA. In January 2019, 16 regional political parties of India allied to form the Mahagathbandhan or the Federal Front.
Seeking reelection, the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi led NDA faces competition from the UPA and the Mahagathbandhan. Some political experts claim that an alliance between the UPA and the Mahagathbandhan to form a strong, unified opposition could prevent NDA from winning the majority seat share in the Lok Sabha.
Prime Minister Modi and his party, BJP, have recently faced criticism for the country’s slowing economic growth rate, contrary to the leader’s promise of economic prosperity in the 2014 election campaign. Allegations of price escalation and favoritism, to Indian business tycoon Anil Ambani’s company Reliance Defense, during the procurement of 36 multirole fighter aircraft, Rafale, have dented PM Modi and the BJP’s “clean” public perception.
Moreover, the governing party’s image was attacked for allegedly suppressing a report depicting a 45-year record high unemployment rate of 6.1% in India in 2019. Some analysts opine that unemployment should be one of the key issues Modi must promise to address as he seeks reelection.
However, another body of experts points towards an image recovery of PM Modi and the BJP in the aftermath of the terror attack in Pulwama, Kashmir last month. Experts claim that the swift and strong response of launching surgical strikes on the identified terrorist infrastructures across the border has “cemented the image of Prime Minister Modi as a decisive leader.”
Post Pulwama attacks, national security, and counter-terrorism are becoming the most pivotal issues of the 2019 elections. Some analysts propound that by positioning themselves as the nation’s guards, the BJP and PM Modi are mobilising the “intense nationalistic current running through the country” for their reelection campaign.
According to political commentator DC Pathak, the 2019 election is going to be a test of democracy for India with three central factors driving the election results: “performance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Hindi heartland [Indian state of Uttar Pradesh], effectiveness of non-BJP combinations in the South and the prospects of BJP making up for any deficiency in its tally of seats in the Hindi belt, in the Western and Eastern parts of India.”