Will PM Modi win a 2nd term? Counting of votes in Lok Sabha polls begins
By end of day today, perhaps even earlier, India will have its say on who will administer the country for the next five years.
All exit polls have predicted that the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will return to power. If that happens, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the face of the BJP’s campaign, will win a second term in office.
Although exit polls have been right, if only directionally, in four of the five parliamentary elections prior to 2019, they have been wrong before — most significantly, in 2004, reports the Hindustan Times.
Either way, six weeks after the election process kicked off, Indian citizens will finally know which leader will represent their constituencies in the 17th Lok Sabha; which political party or formation is best positioned to form the next government; and, in case of a clear outcome, who will be the country’s Prime Minister for the next five years.
The elections, held over seven phases, in 542 constituencies, witnessed the highest ever turnout in Indian history at 67.1% (tentative figure from the Election Commission) beating the previous record of 66.4% in the 2014 polls.
At the national level, it was a battle between the NDA, led by the BJP’s Modi, and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), led by Congress president, Rahul Gandhi, who was, however, not the alliance or party’s declared prime ministerial face.
But the battle also assumed distinct forms in distinct states where the BJP was taking on a range of regional formations, from the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) alliance in Uttar Pradesh to the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in West Bengal or the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in Odisha. In some other states, particularly in the south, the battle was between distinct regional formations.
At stake was not just the formation of a new government, but the direction in which India should head. Modi sought an endorsement of his governance record of the past five years, including his economic management, foreign policy, and cultural agenda and projected his achievements as a decisive departure from the past towards a “new India”.
In his speeches, Modi focused on four major themes. He highlighted the government’s delivery in terms of rural assets (housing, gas cylinders, toilets, electrification); national security, particularly the response to terror emanating from Pakistan through surgical- and air-strikes; corruption, where he claimed that his government had heralded the end of “middlemen” even as the opposition sought power only to amass resources; and leadership, where he projected the NDA to be a cohesive whole under his firm stewardship and contrasted it with an “adulterated” alliance of warring parties with no ideological unity or leadership on the other side.
There was also a fifth strong theme in the campaign. Without using the word Hindutva, Modi played on the identity of the majority community, rubbished the idea of Hindu terror and accused the opposition of playing “vote bank politics”, which his base understood as code for appeasing Muslims.
The Opposition sought to mobilise people to reject precisely this vision, accusing the government of economic ruin,institutional disruption and communal divisiveness.
In his speeches, Gandhi focused on four themes as well. The first was a fierce attack on the Prime Minister for his alleged corruption in the Rafale deal, with the repeated invocation of the “chowkidar chor hai (the watchman is the thief)” slogan. This was supplemented with repeated accusations that the Modi government essentially favoured a set of crony capitalists. The second theme was highlighting what Gandhi claimed was the economic failure of the government. As proof, he cited demonetisation and the roll-out of the Goods and Services Tax. The third theme was how the Modi government has, in Gandhi’s assessment, attacked every independent institution, from influencing the Supreme Court, reducing the Election Commission to an instrument of the executive, and misusing investigative agencies. And finally, Gandhi emphasised his party’s flagship promise of Nyay, an income assistance programme of ₹72,000 per year to 20% of India’s poorest families.
Other regional leaders reiterated the strands of the Gandhi’s attack on Modi, with their own specific variations. Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav claimed to represent the subaltern and marginalised castes, while painting the BJP as anti-backward, anti-Dalit and anti-Muslim. Mamata Banerjee saw in the BJP’s aggression in Bengal an attack on her state’s distinctiveness and accused the party of communal polarisation. The DMK in Tamil Nadu projected Modi and the BJP as having controlled the levers of power in the state after the death of Jayalalithaa through proxies, and saw in the party’s ideological agenda an assault on the linguistic and cultural ethos of the south.
But even as these were the major contours of the campaign, all parties had specific strategies and expectations from different states.
But beyond the campaign agenda and the specific results in different states, the outcome today will determine the shape of the government for the remaining five years. Has India decided to re-elect Narendra Modi and give him another chance to fulfil his agenda, or does India want change in the form of an alternative alliance? We will know today.