India has successfully completed two of the seven voting phases of the 17th Lok Sabha elections and is going for the third phase today, April 23, 2019. It means that the voters have already elected 91 members of parliament in the first phase and 97 in the second phase. That makes 188 members of a total strength of 543 members have been already elected. With the third phase in the process for electing 115 members, which makes it 303 members in three phases, more than half of the total strength of parliament has been chosen. However, the party-wise details are unknown as the results are lying in the sealed electronic voting machines. In the remaining four phases, the voters will elect 240 members and the final results will be known only after counting of votes on May 23.
Wild guesses have already begun, and claims and counter claims by alliance partners in main groups in the fray – BJP-led NDA and the Congress-led UPA – and other groups are emerging. For BJP-led NDA the Prime Ministerial candidate is incumbent Narendra Modi and for Congress-led UPA the Prime Ministerial candidate is Rahul Gandhi. The former is an experienced politician and the latter is a relatively novice for the post. But there is Mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) formed in Uttar Pradesh by SP-BSP-RLD, which is waiting in wings to occupy the Delhi throne. Then the confusion comes who could be the Prime Ministerial candidate – Akilesh Yadav or Mayawati or anybody else? Yet another strong and aspiring contestant for the coveted position is Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Benerjee whose eyes are set on the support she would have from Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu. But as of now, according to some surveys, Chandrababu Naidu’s position of coming back to power is doubted.
Among the regional political equations is that even Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao is also speaking about consolidating regional parties into an alliance to keep the BJP and Congress Party away from the heading the Center. Since the idea is his, he is naturally an aspiring Prime Ministerial candidate. That will become a reality only when the rest of all options fail.
After the two phases of polling and as India gets ready for the third phase, Narendra Modi may still be favored Prime Minister for a second term. Despite Narendra Modi’s much criticized demonetization (which caused hardships to all) and the implementation of GST, a favorable atmosphere is seen in many states – even in southern states, Modi seems to have gained some popularity for his clean administration and anti-corruption actions. The general feeling among common people now is that demonetization has created scare among affluent people to hoard hard currency. Higher value transactions in hard cash have become minimum. Similarly, the GST, which was initially opposed by trading community, is now welcomed for its simplification and transparency. The youth of the country agree that handling of money through banks has created openness in businesses, and tax collection has vastly increased.
Not many agree with the Opposition claim that the unemployment rate has increased. Some people are of the opinion that the problem is only with those who seek government jobs. But employment rate in the private sector has gone up and more youngsters are seeking self-employment. The increased migration of the educated as well as uneducated youth from rural areas to urban cities may explain that employment in private sector is still rising. There is a boom in construction industry, which has opened up employment with good income to the rural uneducated people. The hindsight of it has been that it has created shortage of farm workers in villages. Even rural women are finding jobs as domestic help, factory workers or other well-paying jobs in urban areas.
Most cabdrivers in the cities are the educated youth, who prefer such self-employment rather than being unemployed. With the financial aid and relief offered by the government, the farming in rural areas is gaining activity providing employment to rural folks. Migration of workers from northern states like Bihar, Orissa, and Assam to the southern and other affluent states is evident that the youth are accepting relocation. All these changes are more pronounced during the past five years than before. But unfortunately not much data is available because the surveys are very few.
Despite the opposition parties’ ‘united’ efforts against Narendra Modi, he may still be the favorite for a second term as the Prime Minister. In the last two months, following India’s fitting reply to the Pak border violations, the defense forces’ surgical strike on Balakot, firm action against terrorist elements and separatist forces in Kashmir, and ISRO’s and DRDO’s “make-in-India” successful mid-air missile and space missions, Narendra Modi’s graph may have gone up. He keeps stressing that never before India has attained such an international recognition in successfully conducting space experimentations. He had also taken certain measures to attend to the woes of farmers. Along with India’s successful foreign policy, India’s international trade has been growing and rupee is gradually making gains against world currencies.
Like other Opposition parties, Rahul Gandhi and Congress are targeting their tirade against Narendra Modi. To strengthen the dwindling popularity of the Congress Party, Rahul Gandhi has inducted Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. Whether she would revive Congress’ fortunes, it remains to be seen. Rahul Gandhi keeps raising corruption charges against the government in the Rafale aircraft deal, Nirav Modi and Vijay Mallya bank fraud cases, but they don’t seem to have much impact on Narendra Modi. Especially, with the recent developments on Agusta Westland helicopter scandal, Narendra Modi was able to push back on the charges against his government.
The biggest announcement of the Rahul Gandhi’s campaign has been his promise of Rs. 72,000 annual sop to the each poor person of the country – something akin to “Garibi Hatao” slogan. However, neither he nor the Congress party doesn’t explain how they would be able to raise such huge amount to pay the poor. Such sops and subsidies work in certain cases; whether it would change the current election scenario remains to be seen.
India is currently undergoing the largest election process of the world in seven phases, extending to more than a month and a half and involving about 900 million citizens. The results of the long-drawn election process will be known by May 23, and the country will hopefully have a new stable government. Unless the opposition comes out in a more concerted manner and with a clear policy-based agenda, Narendra Modi may remain a favorite for a second term as the Prime Minister.
(J.V. Lakshmana Rao is former National News Coordinator of Express News Service, New Delhi, and former Chief Editor of US-based India Tribune. He frequently travels between India and the US.)
Picture Credits : livemint