Washington, DC – India, the world’s largest democracy with a staggering 900 million plus eligible voters, is set to host the world’s biggest election exercise from April 11 to May 19. The votes will be counted on May 23 after the elections are held in seven phases to elect a new Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament.
There is a race to bait voters with competitive populistic offers among the main political parties, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by the incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indian National Congress party steered by Rahul Gandhi, fourth-generation Nehru family scion.
The Modi-led federal government announced direct cash transfers to farmers and waivers of farm loans. There were also promises of job quota for the less well-to-do among the upper castes and other religions.
On the other hand, young opposition leader Rahul Gandhi promised to guarantee a minimum income for the poor if his party wins the elections.
In addition, there will be freebies ranging from TV sets, laptops to cash incentives along with free flowing alcohol on the sly before and during the election days.
When Modi led the BJP to win 282 of the 428 seats it contested in 2014, it was the first time since 1984 a party had won an absolute majority in a general election. The win was on promises including corruption free “Achey Din (Better Days)” and bringing back alleged black money hoarded abroad but neither materialized.
Now Prime Minister Modi faces a performance based evaluation by the Indian voters. Over the years Indian voters have proven their amazingly well-informed attitude and secretive nature in their voting patterns.
On the grass-roots level, one comes across devastating effects on the population with meagre incomes from the ill-conceived and controversial 2016 Demonetization. The government overnight rubbished valid currency and people felt the punch.
The new complex and poorly executed uniform goods and services tax (GST) also had a disastrous squeeze on small and medium businesses, and many lost their livelihood in India’s huge informal economy.
Overall there is a dip in the exports, and unemployment is on the rise. The Modi government is also accused of hiding damaging statistics of jobs data. Some of India’s state-owned banks are drowning in bad loans and defaulters are fleeing the country.
Cow vigilantism has increased the wedge between Hindus and other minorities as “cow-vigilantes” have fatally lynched dozens of non-Hindus, especially Muslims, over claims (sometimes rumors) of either dealing in beef or eating it.
The swing vote machinery will be working overtime but the undercurrent which is being felt can be summarized thus: It is the economy, and demonetization with GST which is going to take its toll. A sample was visible in the state-level elections where Congress did win in many states and formed governments.
Let May 23 come and see what the Indian voter decides.