Monday, June 17, 2019 | ePaper

The battle of ballots in India

BJP places adverts in 150 newspapers extolling its successes !

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India has entered full election mode: voting is due to begin on 11 April, with the final ballot cast more than five weeks later on 19 May. The election schedule has finally unveiled recently; letting Indians across the country know when they would get to cast their ballot.
There will be seven stages in total, starting in 20 states on 11 April - with 91 seats up for grabs - and ending on 19 May, with the final 59 seats spread across eight states.
Well, while the schedule's length is nothing unusual - India's first election in 1951-52 took a total of three months to complete - a number of people are pointing to the unusual way some states have been split up.
For example, West Bengal - where the majority of MPs are from the Trinamool Congress (TMC) - will vote over seven separate dates.
Could this have an impact on the overall vote? Possibly, according to elections expert Sanjay Kumar.
"Multiple phases in one state is not ideal," Mr Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, wrote on Twitter. "Campaign in neighborhood constituency within same state would impact voting decision."
But could that give one party an unfair advantage? Some on social media have certainly suggested it may - particularly when it comes to the ruling BJP.
Others dismissed the allegation as rubbish. For example, senior Economic Times editor Shantanu N Sharma suggested the four-phase vote in the small state of Orissa could be down to the need to move federal forces needed to patrol the polling stations from one region to the other.
Local police are seen to be partisan, so federal forces have to be deployed to secure polling stations. The forces have to be freed from their duties and moved all around the country.
In fact, he went as far as to suggest the set-up is actually "disadvantageous to the ruling party".
And there are other things to consider when it comes to the schedule and how it will affect the outcome: Mr Kumar points out the choice of days - over weekends, holidays and even Mondays - could bring voter turnout down in some areas.
The Electoral Commission, meanwhile, has not given precise details of how it put the schedule together.
The election date may have only been announced on Sunday, but there was no missing the fact it was coming.
Narendra Modi's ruling BJP had placed adverts in 150 newspapers across the country extolling its successes over the last five years - all of which had to come to a stop on Monday, due to election rules.
But even before the election officially began, campaigns were causing controversy.
Meanwhile, the Election Commission was forced to remind parties they were not allowed to use pictures of the military in any of their promotional material.
The warning comes after India carried out airstrikes on what it said was a militant camp in neighbouring Pakistan last month, reportedly giving Prime Minister Modi a bump in the polls.
India's lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, has 543 elected seats. Any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a majority government.
Some 900 million voters - 86 million more than the last elections in 2014 - are eligible to vote at 930,000 polling stations.
Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will be used at all polling stations. The entire process will be overseen by the Election Commission of India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi who won a landslide victory in 2014 is seeking a second term for both himself and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
His main challengers are the main opposition Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi, and a consortium of regional parties called the Mahagathbandhan (which translates from the Hindi into massive alliance).
The Mahagathbandhan has seen some of India's strongest regional parties, including fierce rivals, come together.
This includes the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Dalit icon Mayawati, normally fierce rivals in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most number of MPs to parliament.
The alliance also includes the Trinamool Congress which is in power in the state of West Bengal and Arvind Kejriwal whose Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rules Delhi.
The aim of the alliance is to consolidate regional and anti-BJP votes, in order to oust Mr Modi from power.
Other regional players including Tamil Nadu's DMK and AIADMK and Telangana's TRS in the south are not part of the alliance, but are expected to perform well in their own states, which is likely to make them key to any coalition government.
The dates of voting at a glance -- 11 April: Andhra Pradesh (25), Arunachal Pradesh (2), Assam (5), Bihar (4), Chhattisgarh (1), J&K (2), Maharashtra (7), Manipur (1), Meghalaya (2), Mizoram (1), Nagaland (1), Odisha (4), Sikkim (1), Telangana (17), Tripura (1), Uttar Pradesh (UP) (8), Uttarakhand (5), West Bengal (2), Andaman & Nicobar (1), Lakshadweep (1)
18 April: Assam (5), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (3), Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) (2), Karnataka (14), Maharashtra (10), Manipur (1), Odisha (5), Tamil Nadu (39), Tripura (1), UP (8), West Bengal (3), Puducherry (1)
23 April: Assam (4), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (7), Gujarat (26), Goa (2), J&K (1), Karnataka (14), Kerala (20), Maharashtra (14), Odisha (6), UP (10), West Bengal (5), Dadar and Nagar Haveli (1), Daman and Diu (1)
29 April: Bihar (5), J&K (1), Jharkhand (3), MP (6), Maharshtra (17), Odisha (6), Rajasthan (13), UP (13), Bengal (8)
6 May: Bihar (1), J&K (2), Jharkhand (4), Madhya Pradesh (MP) (7), Rajasthan (12), UP (14), Bengal (7)
12 May: Bihar (8), Haryana (10), Jharkhand (4), MP (8), UP (14), Bengal (8), Delhi (7)
19 May: Bihar (8), Jharkhand (3), MP (8), Punjab (13), Bengal (9), Chandigarh (1), UP (13), Himachal Pradesh (4).

(BBC News)

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