Welcome to your fifth weekly briefing covering the elections in India. We provide you with a brief summary of events, expert analysis, and what to expect in the coming weeks. Enjoy - and don't hesitate to get in touch!
What we know
This week saw the conclusion of the fifth phase of polling. 51 seats spread across the seven states of Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal went to polls. Among these seats, the Pulwama segment went to vote for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat in Jammu and Kashmir, the city which in February saw one of the deadliest terror attacks in recent Indian history. The city saw one of the lowest election turnouts, with only 2.14% of the eligible voters voting in Pulwama. In addition, there were at least three attempts to launch grenade attacks on polling booths in the city. The surrounding region, comprising the entirety of the Anantnag Lok Sabha seats, only managed to secure an 8.76% turnout, down from 28.54% in 2014. This seat is particularly important because the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Muft, is contesting the elections. With the majority of voters in Pulwama apparently boycotting the elections, the very nature of an elected representative, and that too of the former Chief Minister, comes into question.
In a different part of India, speaking at a rally in Pratapgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minister Modi said, “Your father [referring to Rahul Gandhi’s father, Rajiv Gandhi] was termed Mr. Clean by his courtiers, but his life ended as Brashtachari [corrupt] No. 1”. This remark has been termed by many commentators as a ‘new low’ in Indian politics, where even a former assassinated Prime Minister [Rajiv Gandhi] is not spared from the continuation of personal attacks between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress Party. Many commentators of Indian politics have argued that these comments come at a time when a number of important seats with a significant Sikh population go to polls in the sixth and seventh phase. By bringing Rajiv Gandhi in the current political discourse, the BJP, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is trying to revive the horrors of the 1984 Sikh genocide in which many senior Congress leaders are held culpable.
The incumbent Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, of the Aam Admi Party, was slapped during a roadshow in west Delhi’s Moti Nagar area, reviving the issue of security during the elections. Rather than being the state’s responsibility, the police force in New Delhi is controlled by the central government. The opposition party has called into question the ability of the central government to ensure the safety of its citizens.
More violence between the BJP and Trinamool Congress was reported in seats that went to poll in West Bengal. The campaign has taken a bitter turn, with a “war on words” in between Prime Minister Modi and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee taking place in the region. So bitter is the campaign that the West Bengal government has refused to hold a review meeting with Prime Minister Modi to assess the damage caused by Cyclone Fani.
What we think
The continued low turnout in Jammu and Kashmir’s parliamentary seats reveals the political disillusionment of the citizens of the state. The continued attacks against Kashmiri citizens across the rest of India in the wake of the Pulwama attack have further alienated the state from the rest of the country.
Prime Minister Modi’s remark on former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi clearly illustrates the personalised and negative tone of the campaign that this election season has taken. Rather than campaigning on economic issues, it serves Prime Minister Modi’s political interest to target the Nehru-Gandhi family. Moreover, it places the Congress Party on the back foot, with the majority of its leaders and spokespersons coming out in defence of Rajiv Gandhi in contrast to providing their vision for the future. The Prime Minister’s remarks has brought back the issue of the Bofors scam and the 1984 Sikh genocide into current political discourse.
The current campaign in the state of West Bengal is particularly interesting, where the BJP is trying very hard, and has succeeded in some places, to revive the history of communal rioting in the state. However, the BJP is met with a strong opposition in the state, led by Mamata Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress (not to be confused with the Congress party). Unlike the Congress Party, Mamata Banerjee goes on the offensive, playing the regional card against the BJP’s communal campaign.
Things to watch out for next week
With the conclusion of phase five, 118 of the 543 seats are left to be polled in the upcoming sixth and seventh phase. All seven seats of New Delhi will be polled on 12 May. In the absence of an electoral alliance between the Congress Party and the AAP in New Delhi, it remains to be seen whether the BJP will be able to benefit from the division of the 'secular' vote between the Congress Party and the AAP.
Don’t forget to check out our #Indiavotes2019 coverage of the election on our social media and on theasiadialogue.com
With best wishes,
UoN Asia Research Institute
Posted on Thursday 9th May 2019