The first phase of the General Elections 2019 in India will take place after three weeks from now. As is the norm before every crucial election, the pollsters have begun releasing their opinion polls which all point towards surprises for the ruling coalition headed by BJP’s Narendra Modi. But it’s also a fact that the current surveys could be wide of the mark until the parties finalise alliances, which could be as late as the first week of April.
It’s mind-boggling when we think about thousands of candidates, hundreds of parties, endless combinations of possible coalitions. Considering the inherent complications in a country as wide and diverse as India, the job of a Psephologist, tasked with making sense of the country’s fiendishly complicated politics is not easy.
In the 2014 Parliamentary elections, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Modi despite having a coalition under NDA, won a surprise majority on its own. It was way back in 1984, when Congress won majority single-handedly riding on the wave of sympathy votes after Mrs Indira Gandhi’s assassination.
Until last year, Mr Modi was leading the ratings chart as the most popular leader but a series of scams namely the Rafale scam, Nirav Modi and Mehul Chowksi PNB scam together with the rising unemployment and a fall in rural incomes have dented his so called image of Mr Clean. His famous slogan of 2014 election campaign “Na Khaunga aur Na Khane Dunga” has lost its sheen and with rampant corruption all around, it sounds like a cruel joke.
Predicting the outcomes of elections in India has become increasingly multi-varied with the emergence of regional parties complicating pollsters’ efforts. In the last three elections, the poll results have been significantly off the mark. In both 2004 and 2009 elections, UPA’s chances were completely underestimated, while in 2014, barring Today’s Chanakya no agency predicted the BJP’s outright victory.
Prime Minister Modi has reason to feel less confident about the coming general election than he once might have. He is not as popular as he used to be because of declining confidence of investors in the Indian economy. The shoddily implemented GST had a debilitating effect on the MSME sector while earlier the shocking demonetisation had dented the GDP by more than 3 lakh crore.
As far as the outcome of the General elections is concerned, Uttar Pradesh remains a vital state with as many as 80 Lok Sabha seats. But it is not an easy job to predict how people will choose to vote here. For this reason,Uttar Pradesh is also known as “Ulta Pradesh”. Recent polls have shown that if Samajwadi Party and BSP form an alliance with the main opposition Congress, the BJP would be wiped out in the state and in all probability will also lose power at the centre.
After Mr Modi came to power, the ultra Hindu nationalism has flourished which resulted in frequent attacks against Muslims and so-called lower-caste Hindus. The lynchings have become so rampant that in December 2018, a mob protesting over killing of cows shot dead a police officer in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh. The crime against women has also increased exponentially, including the rape and murder of young girls.
Last year, BJP lost three key states Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh to Congress in the assembly elections which put a big question mark on Mr Modi’s invincibility. This prompted his party to come out with some populist measures like Universal Basic Income scheme. Between 2014 and 2019, there is one key difference in a sense that the opposition which was in disarray has now begun to reunite.
Mr Modi must have realised that in politics, one year is a long time. If we go back to 2017, a popular survey showed close to 90% of Indians having a favorable view of him. But since then, things have changed and an anemic job market and falling economy have clouded the water for him. Meanwhile, BJP has also lost coalition partners in Andhra Pradesh and Kashmir and suffered high-profile defeats in three state elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in December, 2018.
BJP may have lost assembly elections recently but to its credit, it still controls 17 out of 29 states, including the most populous Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, whose capital Mumbai is India’s financial hub. It is also true that under Modi and BJP President Amit Shah, the party has made inroads beyond its traditional northern support base. It also received lion’s share in corporate donations through the recently launched Electoral Bonds. It raised a successful social media troll army and has deployed thousands of grassroot activists to shepherd voters to the polling booths.
It will be interesting to watch whether opposition parties can maintain a united front in order to consolidate anti BJP votes. If Congress can manage an understanding and seat adjustments with the major regional parties, the opposition could be in the striking distance of forming the next government. Till that time, we will wait and watch with bated breath.