fter an anxious wait and what seemed like a drag, the schedule for elections to the Lok Sabha and four state Assemblies has been announced by the Election Commission of India (EC). This sets the ball rolling for the world’s largest democratic exercise involving 90 crore people, up from 84 crore in 2014. This is about 10 per cent of new voters. Some 1.5 crore of these are the real first timers in the age-bracket of 18-19. How the young generation looks at the polls is crucial for win to all the contenders. The process involves 543 Lok Sabha seats apart from Assembly seats in four states. The seven-phase polling from April 11 to May 19 will culminate in the counting and declaration of results in one go, on May 23, leading to the formation of a new 17th Lok Sabha and, thereby, a government. This means a long wait for those who have exercised their franchise in the first few phases, but this is understandable as Indian elections have acquired a global name for fairness in a land where political tug of war often takes chaotic proportions. Several sensitive areas and states need special care and more than the usual security cover such as Bihar and UP and politically volatile West Bengal, for instance. Assembly polls have also been announced for Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. Jammu and Kashmir has been edged out of this exercise for the large part and polls are announced only for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat. The EC is obviously of the view that the conditions in Kashmir Valley do not suit holding of fair polls at this juncture.
To allay concerns about likely tampering of Electronic Voting Machines, the EC has announced GPS monitoring of the vehicles carrying the voting machines. Another notable feature this time is the introduction of VVPAT system under which voters will be able to independently verify whether their votes were correctly cast. This would eliminate chances of fraud or machine malfunction. On a wider scale, this could audit the election results, and ensure that the process was done in a fair manner. The code of conduct for the polls comes into immediate effect. Governments can no more hold out new promises or start new initiatives until the results are declared. However, significantly, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have been given a long rope – by way of a slight delay in the announcement of the election schedule. Normally, this is announced around the beginning of March. One report has it that PM Modi has attended over 150 events in the past one month, by way of launch of new governmental initiatives – this, at the fag end of his term. Hopefully, such attempts by politicians can no more fool the people who know well that these are nothing more than election gimmicks. In reality Indian politicians with some brains ought to desist in such stupid gimmicks at the last moment.
Political parties are more or less ready for the campaign, evident also from the fact that some top names for contest are already out for Uttar Pradesh, as also for several other states. Candidatures of Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been announced for two seats, and so did former chief minster Mulayam Singh for the important battleground state of Uttar Pradesh. More names would be out in the coming few days. Clearly, the ruling BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi were on the defensive in the run-up to this round of parliamentary polls. They were still licking the wounds inflicted on them by the voters in the five state Assembly polls, three of them in the central Hindi belt. This, over and above the hit the ruling party and the PM took for alleged mis-governance in the past five years, as was evident in the Demonetisation and GST rollout that strained people across the board. The BJP and Modi hoped to turn the tide in their favour by the IAF bombing in Balakot in Pakistan, but its shine seems almost lost due to the hazy nature of the outcome. Add to this the Rafale scam, about which newer and newer aspects putting PM Modi directly in the dock are coming out, further sullying the image of the PM and the ruling NDA as a whole. With this as the backdrop, the coming polls would be more curious to watch, for sure.