On 23 April in the third phase of the seven phased general elections, 115 Lok Sabha seats in 12 states and 2 Union Territories are at stake. Since little over half of these seats (65) were won by the BJP and its allies riding the Modi’s wave that include a clean sweep in Gujarat, the round assumes critical importance.
In the first two phases, polling percentage has not risen rather it is declined by few percentage points giving an indication of absence of a Modi wave that is a cause of worry for the ruling BJP. Therefore, this phase is in media focus and international attention as respected heads of the two national parties are in the fray. Congress president Rahul Gandhi is in the electoral contest from Wayanad Lok Sabha constituency in Kerala apart from his traditional seat in Amethi in Uttar Pradesh and BJP president Amit Shah is contesting from Gandhinagar-a seat that was held by former Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani.
All parliamentary seats in Gujarat (26), Kerala (20), Goa (2), Dadra Nagar Haveli (1) and Daman & Diu (1) are going to be contested in this phase. Voters in some seats in states of Assam (4), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (7), J&K (2), Karnataka (14), Maharashtra (14), Odisha (6), UP (10), and West Bengal (5) will have the opportunity to exercise their franchise.
Among all the states where elections are scheduled in the third phase, battle in Gujarat is the most crucial for both the national parties. While the BJP is leaving no efforts legitimate or otherwise to repeat the 2014 performance of winning all the 26 seats, the Congress in no less measure is trying its best to wrest few seats to break Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s impregnable fort, which is being zealously guarded and strengthened by BJP chief Amit Shah.
Buoyed by the success in the 2017 assembly polls when it won 77 seats out of total 182 seats and polled 41.4% votes, the Congress party cadre is charged up by its President Rahul Gandhi’s aggressive approach, and is not sparing any chance to rake up the Rafael issue.
Notwithstanding the tall claims of both the BJP and the Congress, the ground level situation seems to be quite muddied over selection of candidates as the two parties have faced dissension. The rumblings of discord were triggered by reports that some turncoats would be rewarded with tickets by both the parties. The voice of dissent has been particularly pronounced in Saurashtra, Kutch and North Gujarat regions of the state.
Conscious of the challenges, Modi-Shah duo have deployed all possible means in last couple of months that include desertion of the Congress legislators from their party by either luring them with offer of ministership or other important positions. On the other hand, the Prime Minister started making trips to his home state well before elections were announced. Between January and March by the time elections were announced, Modi had been to Gujarat on a two-day visit on March 4 half a dozen times to inaugurate and launch several projects.
The Modi-Shah duo cannot afford to take any chances in their home state because of the Congress Party’s decision to take the battle to the rival’s stronghold. Congress president Rahul Gandhi launched the Congress poll campaign from Dharampur in Valsad district of South Gujarat on February 14, picking up the issue of land acquisition for the bullet train.
On March 11, the Congress top leadership also descended on Ahmadabad for Congress Working Committee (CWC) meeting, ostensibly to rub home the importance the Congress gives to the state. The decision to choose Gujarat over Congress-ruled states is a pointer in his direction. The CWC, in its resolution underlined the party’s resolve to fight the forces of hatred. Priyanka Gandhi who was recently appointed General Secretary in -charge of Eastern UP was also present during the CWC meeting.
The Gujarat battle looks intense and fierce with both parties fighting for every inch of the political space. It appears almost impossible for the BJP to capture all the seats like the last time and a loss of even one seats is going be perceived a gain for the Congress and loss for Modi-Shah duo.
Apart from Gujarat, election is also for all the 20 seats in Kerala. While the electoral battle is mainly between the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) but the BJP is very hopeful of making inroads in the electoral politics of a state which has shown doors to the saffron outfit despite its tireless efforts. The BJP is hopeful of making a decisive dent in the wake the Supreme Court verdict that allowed the entry of women of all ages to the Sabarimala temple which till then was a taboo as women after attaining the age of 50 years plus were permitted to have a darshan of Lord Ayyappa. The BJP opposed the apex court’s verdict with an argument that courts have no say in the matter of faith.
Close battles are being fought in by the BJP in UP and Maharashtra where 10 and 14Lok Sabha seats are at stake. Outcome of these seats is going to determine the shape of the next government. Fate of many important leaders including that of leader of the Congress party in the outgoing Lok Sabha Malikarjun Kharge from Gulbarga in Karnataka and Shashi Tharoor from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala is going to be decided in this phase. Daughter of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar Supriya Sule is also in the fray in Baramati constituency of Maharashtra where election is being held for 14 Lok Sabha seats. Couple of Union ministers of the Modi government are also in the electoral arena and some of them like controversial Anantha kumar Hegde from Uttara Kammada are facing tough battles. Majority of the ministers are hoping that they would come back not because of their own work or popularity but because of Modi’s charisma.
For retaining its government at the centre, the BJP and its allies need to maintain the 2014 tally in this phase otherwise power will begin to slip out of the control.
Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.