The Election Commission of India announced seven-phased general election for electing the 17th Lok Sabha on March 10. Over 900 million strong electorate is going to participate in the electoral process. On May 23, when results of the massive democratic exercise become public, people would know whom or which party or parties they have blessed to rule them for the next five years.
In the first phase, scheduled for April 11, voters would exercise their respective franchise on 91 seats and the last phase would be conducted on May 19 in which 59 seats would be at stake. While political parties are busy in selecting their candidates to contest in different seats across the country, usual noise and bluster along with parties and their leaders wooing the electorate shall resume once the date of withdrawal of candidate from the fray is complete.
Even though a close look at the prevailing political reality at the ground reveals that no party or for that matter no alliance seems to enjoy an upper hand in the coming electoral battle. It seems evenly poised with one party having an advantage in one state and other party in other state.
Political pendulum has been swinging rather very fast during the last two months. Till a terrorist attack on a convoy of the central security forces on February 14 in the state of Jammu and Kashmir at Pulwama killing over 40 personnel, the ruling BJP led NDA alliance was on a losing track. Terrorist attack from across the borders from Pakistan and the subsequent raid by the Indian Air Force jet fighters on February 26 at Balkot in Pakistan brought a change in the political fortunes of the BJP and its leader Prime Minister Narendra Modi in North India.
Pulwama terrorist attack and the subsequent retaliatory raid by the IAF fighters gave the BJP and its mentor RSS an opportunity to play the nationalism card aggressively. Any question asked on the nature of the attack or the government’s failure to prevent the terrorist attack on Indian locations and the resultant loss of lives was resented by the BJP and those asking, commenting or probing were quickly dubbed as anti-nationals.
There were smiles of satisfaction on the faces of leaders of the ruling party as if their woes were over. Confidence began to get reflected on their faces as they internally became sure of their return to power but alas the happy phase did not last long. Doubts over the attack began to surface in public minds as popular perception began to change.
Past of Modi began to catch with him as people said that he plans events and like the burning of a Railway train coach at Godhra in 2002 had revived the political fortunes of the then ruling BJP in state of Gujarat, chain of events after Pulwama attack offer a strong resemblance.
International well as a small section of national media challenged claims of the BJP leaders including that of the party chief Amit Shah over the numbers of terrorists killed in IAF raids at terrorist camps at Balakotand the nationalism narrative sought to be commandeered by the RSS-BJP combine came under popular scrutiny.
As a result, new issues are being raised and as the election fever picks up in coming days and weeks, electoral battle is going to contested not on a national wave but on local and regional issues with regional parties playing an important role in taking on the BJP.
It must be admitted that the BJP has played its cards much more cleverly than its opponents like the Congress, the Left parties or the Aam Admi Party (AAP) that have failed to forge effective electoral alliances that could have raised the index of the opposition unity thus avoiding the division of anti-BJP votes and making the contest direct.
Notwithstanding the opposition failure to forge a common front, many factors seem to favour the opposition. First, alliances between the Congress and regional parties have been concluded in Maharashtra, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, J&K, Karnataka and Kerala that account for 182 Lok Sabha seats. There are reasonable chances that the Congress and its allies are going to win more than two third seats.
In Assam, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and West Bengal that have 275 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP and its allies had won 236 seats. A repeat performance of the NDA is totally out of question as the Congress as well as regional parties are on a resurgent mode and the BJP is being faulted on many counts. The BJP should consider itself fortunate enough if it can retain half the number of seats that it won in 2014.
State of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Telangana send 63 MPs to the lower house of Parliament and the BJP had won only four seats in 2014. There are no indications whatsoever if the BJP or any of its allies have gained popularity in these three states. There is a strong possibility that the BJP may lose even these four seats or may restrict to a number lower than last time.
In remaining 33 odd seats that come from smaller states of North East and Union Territories, the BJP-led NDA cannot win even on a very optimistic count half the number which means its total strength is going to remain below the 200 mark that is well below the half way mark.
Battle ahead is going to be very tough, ugly and bitter in which each side is going to deploy all possible means. Though in this game, the ruling party always has an upper hand but the opposition too has many cards up their sleeves. The contest is open and either side can win finally.