Will India witness a change in the 2019 elections?
India’s grand and most awaited elections will take place on April 11, 2019, and the world’s largest democracy is waiting to elect its new Prime Minister. With 900 million people waiting to exercise their right to vote, parties also gear up to pursue the voters in their favour. The vote will be held in phases ending on May 19 and ballots to be counted on May 23. The battle this time is not only between Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC/Congress) but its more of a fight to oust the BJP by forming the anti-BJP alliance. The Congress is actively working to take part in regional politics and stitch alliances.
BJP is undoubtedly a dominant pole in Indian politics and as the party likes to believe that it’s ‘invincible’. However, the adoption of certain policies and programs by the party has created a critical picture of the party not just nationally but also internationally. The adoption of certain policies such as Goods and Services Tax (GST), demonetisation, cow slaughter, love jihad, religion polarization, Rafale deal, Reserve Bank of India scam etc. has made the party weaker among the masses. Moreover, the dissatisfaction of the people towards the BJP grew stronger over the last five years because of three major reasons: stagnant rural incomes, farmer’s distress and an inability of the party to waive off farmer’s loan and unemployment. The state assembly elections that took place last year in December has given the voters a ray of hope in the form of Congress and they initiated a change in three major Hindi heartland states - Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh by electing Congress with a majority. In Chhattisgarh, Congress was able to secure a majority wiping off 15 years of BJP rule. While in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the Congress won by a narrow majority.
What do the stats say?
Few polls conducted last month shows that despite dissatisfaction with the BJP, people prefer Narendra Modi to be their Prime Minister as compared to Rahul Gandhi. The BJP receives support from the middle and upper middle-class particularly the men who are more vocal about their views publicly which intimidates people around. However, the two plausible reasons emerge in the support for the BJP: lack of leadership in the Congress and the response of India to the Pulwama terror attack by conducting airstrikes across the LoC and Pakistan has changed the political wind in the favour of BJP. The Lokniti survey conducted in March states that three out of five voters are satisfied with the government’s performance in the 19 states in which the survey was conducted. Moreover, 46 percent of respondents believe that the government should get another chance which is very different from what the people believed during the period of demonetization. The sudden change in the preference of the voters should be taken into consideration and it should not be forgotten that this trend may reverse during the actual voting day.
To counter Modi’s administration, Rahul Gandhi led Congress is leading the campaign on three major hard-hitting issues: Rafale deal, the intricacies of which many Indian fail to understand, falling Indian economy and farmer’s distress and reservations. The Congress has come out with NYAY scheme (Nyuntam Aay Yojana/ Minimum Income Program) providing 20 percent families i.e., 250 million people approx. living below the poverty line an income of USD 1,044 a year to be directly deposited to their bank accounts. Congress promises that if voted to power it will aim to eradicate poverty by 2030. Where BJP is leading mega rallies and harnessing on national security issue and welfare policies, Congress is promising 20 lakh odd jobs in government sector and expansion of MGNREGA from 100 days to 150 days. The party also promises separate ‘Kisan budget’ (Farmer’s budget) which has been a constant source of disappointment from the BJP. The main attraction in the rallies of Congress has been 33 percent reservation for women that has been waiting to be passed in Lok Sabha since 2008. Congress has gone a step ahead and appointed Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as the prime face of Uttar Pradesh hoping that she would remind people of former Prime Minister and fondly admired Indira Gandhi.
BJP, on the other hand, started campaigning way before the elections were announced. The party is solely leading the campaign on national security issue and focusing on young voters who were the major game changer in the 2014 elections. With two-third of the youth who are eligible to vote in 2019, the party has launched a digital campaign ‘Youth with Modi’ to woo the young crowd. Knowing that the party will be criticized for economic issues, the BJP has promised fiscal prudence and lower taxes for businessman and investors as well as lower tax slabs and greater benefits for the middle income group.
However, the main highlight of the BJP’s manifesto is the building of the Ram Mandir. The party has promised to build the temple in the harmonious environment and as early as possible.
When the coalitions are formed, not only the respective voters of the parties come together but in fact, the parties get additional votes, as people perceive that they have higher chances of winning. Many states consider the performance of the state government even while voting for the national elections. Therefore, it becomes pertinent for the national parties to form an alliance with state parties to win an election.
In the case of BJP, they might be seen to be winning this election overall but the party may witness distinct political behaviour in different states. As per the survey, the satisfaction among the people for the BJP is higher in North India (61%) and West and Central India (67%).
Although the state elections very marginally affect the national elections, but because the state elections in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan took place in December 2018, it becomes important for the BJP to form an early alliance in these states.
In Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Bihar BJP have high chances of winning as the party is forming an alliance with Shiv Sena in Maharashtra and with Janta Dal in Bihar. However, BJP won Uttar Pradesh state elections but received a major setback in the bypoll elections. Even Congress has failed to forge an alliance with Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and thus, Uttar Pradesh remains a major issue for both BJP and the Congress.
BJP has alliance partner in all northeastern states but South India remains even more problematic than before as the party only has the support of All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu. Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala remain difficult for the BJP. Since the votes are divided in West Bengal between Congress, Trinamool Congress and the left, BJP may benefit from it. However, Delhi, Goa, Haryana and Punjab still remain for the BJP and the Congress to form an alliance.
It is quite clear that BJP and Congress would need coalition partners in different states to make an impact and the performance of the BJP in the last five years is not helping the party to come to power in full majority this time. In order to secure power, the party would need partners and cannot solely rely on Modi’s charisma and popularity. To conclude, given the importance of the state leaders and their popularity, it appears that 2019 is the year of coalition politics.