Asia Research Institute

Indian Elections Weekly Briefing - 18 April 2019

India Votes

Welcome to your second weekly briefing covering the elections in India. We aim to provide you in the below a brief summary of events, what our experts think, and what to expect in the coming weeks. Enjoy - and don't hesitate to get in touch!

What we know

Last week saw the successful conclusion of the first phase of India’s seven-phase Lok Sabha elections. On 11 April, elections were conducted in 91 constituencies, spread over 18 States and two Union Territories. The overall voter turnout stood at 69.43%, which compares favourably with the final voter turnout percentage of the 2014 General Elections, which was 66.44%.

Voting was conducted smoothly in most parts of the country, with sporadic reports of violence from some constituencies in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tripura, Maharashtra and Bihar. In Andhra Pradesh, where there was a voter turnout of 78.14%, there were several reports of violent clashes between the supporters of the two main regional parties, namely N. Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP (Telegu Desam Party) Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s YSRCP (YSR Congress Party), and complaints to the Election Commission about malfunctioning Electronic Voting Machines or EVMs. The Chief Electoral Officer has maintained that the polls in Andhra Pradesh were ‘largely satisfactory’.

In India’s newest state, Telengana, voting was peaceful with extensive security provided in Naxal-affected areas. However, reports speculated on voter fatigue to explain the overall low voter turnout at and 62.69%, which dropped to a dismal 39.49% in the city of Hyederabad. The Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) is widely expected to win an overwhelming majority of Telengana’s 17 Lok Sabha seats.

Voting was concluded in 11 of the 25 Lok Sabha seats spread over the 8 North-Eastern states of India, namely, Assam, Tripura, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Nagland, Manipur and Mizoram. The BJP is relying on a carefully crafted North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA) with various regional parties from the North-East to win 20 to 22 of these seats.

In Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar, a relatively low voter turnout has led CSDS director Sanjay Kumar to scale down his earlier predictions for the BJP, arguing that lower voter turnout could indicate a lower tally of 20-25 seats for the BJP in UP, instead of the previously predicted 32-40 seats. These predictions echo the findings of the CVOTER-IANS tracker that has recorded a fall in approval ratings of Narendra Nodi Government by 12 points between 12 March and 12 April, from 55.28 to 43.25.

Over the last week, allegations from the opposition parties of irregularities in the voting process and in the use of EVMs and all-around complaints regarding various candidates violating the Model Code of Conduct have dominated Indian media. Prompted to act by the Supreme Court of India expressing displeasure over its inaction, the Election Commission has barred four politicians – two from the BJP and two from opposition parties - from campaigning in the run up to the second phase of polling, for violating the Model Code of Conduct. It has issued a nationwide campaign ban on BJP’s Yogi Adityanath and Samajwadi Party’s Azam Khan for 72 hours; and on Maneka Gandhi (BJP) and Mayawati (BSP) for 48 hours. In the run up to Tamil Nadu’s only polling date on 18 April, there have been raids by the Income Tax department and the EC’s functionaries to seize money hoarded for bribing voters. In a historic first, the vote has been rescinded in the Vellore constituency over abuse of money power.

While a range of experts weighed in on the Congress and BJP manifestos, the issue of unemployment was highlighted by a report on The State of Working India, 2019, published on Tuesday by the Centre for Sustainable Employment (CSE) of the Azim Premji University. Its findings include steady rise in unemployment since 2011, and a loss of 5 million jobs immediately after demonetisation.

What we think

The allegations by opposition parties about malfunctioning EVMs, or EVMs being rigged to favour BJP do not have much merit, despite its prominence in the media. This is an old accusation and the Election Commission has responded robustly in the past, by developing and using VVPATs or Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails in conjunction with EVMs. However, the 2019 Lok Sabha Election has seen a surge in the use of money and other illegal hand-outs by political parties to influence voters. The last five years have seen increasing polarisation of politics in India along communal lines, so it is unsurprising that the 2019 elections are riddled with accusations of ‘provocative’ and communal speeches. We might witness further calls upon the EC to act to uphold the Model Code of Conduct in the coming weeks.

The first phase of elections has highlighted the importance of regional parties and issues in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Neither the Congress nor the BJP is likely to win many of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Andhra Pradesh and Telengana. While both TDP and YSRCP of Andhra Pradesh are unlikely to support a Congress Government at the centre due to local anti-Congress sentiments born of the creation of Telengana, their support for BJP is also not guaranteed. TDP’s Chandrababu Naidu is not averse to the idea of a ‘Third Front’ as an alternative to BJP and Congress. Telengana’s KCR, at the helm of the TRS has made no secret of his national ambitions of playing king-maker in the event of no single party winning a majority. The BJP needs to do well in the 25 Lok Sabha constituencies from the North East to stand a real chance at forming a majority government. However, its proposed Citizenship Amendment Bill (2016) was extremely unpopular in the North-eastern states and had temporarily jeopardised its alliance with the AGP in Assam. With analysts predicting a backlash over the Bill, and with the Congress exploiting its unpopularity, the success of the BJP in the North-eastern states is by no means certain.

Things to watch out for next week

Today (18 April) is the second of seven polling dates, with elections scheduled to go ahead in 97 constituencies spread over 12 states and the Union Territory of Puducherry. Elections will continue in the states of Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. For the state of Karnataka, this will be the first of two polling dates, with the outcome of 14 of its 28 seats decided by the end of the day. Congress will be contesting the elections in alliance with the regional party, Janata Dal (Secular) against the BJP in what promises to be a closely fought contest. For Tamil Nadu, this is the only polling date. Elections in the state will be a bipolar contest, with the AIDMK front partnering with the BJP and the DMK front allying with the Congress. With the passing of the leaders of both the AIDMK and DMK, local caste-based alliances might play a role in the elections as will regional issues, such as demonetisation’s impact on the textile industry, the protests against the construction of a Sterlite plant and economic distress amongst farmers.

The implementation of the National Register of Citizens or the NRC will continue to be highlighted as a key election promise by the BJP in the eastern states of Assam and West Bengal. However, given the BJP’s tendency to single out non-Hindu migrants for expulsion, it remains to be seen if this campaign will fall foul of the EC’s Model Code of Conduct. While exit polls will only be released after the last date of voting, on 19 May, analysis of the prospects of different parties and candidates will continue, as will last minute negotiations over alliances, particularly between the AAP and Congress in Delhi.

In the meantime, don’t forget to check out our #Indiavotes2019 coverage of the election at our website:!)

With best wishes,

Uditi Sen 
Asia Research Institute 

Posted on Thursday 18th April 2019

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