General Elections 2019 (Phase I): Advantage Regional Parties

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The first phase of General elections to elect 91 members of the 17 Lok Sabha would kick start on 11 April 2019 spread across 20 states with simultaneous assembly polls in Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim, and Odisha, among others. The Lok Sabha elections in 2019 is all set to better its own previous record of being the largest democratic extravaganza in the world, as more than 700 million Indians would exercise their franchise to elect a new government in the country. The BJP and the Congress have released their election manifestos that include among other entries decriminalization of politics, inclusive growth of the poor and 33 percent reservation of women in parliament. A quick glance of the report of a civil society organization, National Election Watch and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) available in public domain, reveals that the laudatory promises of the two national parties is not only fallacious but also exposes their double standards in public life. The ADR report is based on data mined from the affidavits filed by 1266 (13 incomplete or illegible) candidates with the Election Commission of India (ECI) for the first phase of the elections.

It reveals that 30 out of the 83 BJP candidates (36 per cent) and 35 out of the 83 Congress candidates (42 per cent) have criminal cases against them. 27 per cent of the Congress and 19 per cent of the BJP nominees are facing legal trial for serious offences. Thus, 37 out of the 91 seats in the first leg of polls has been designated as ‘Red Alert Constituencies’ (three or more candidates with criminal records) by the ECI, exposing the double speak of principal political parties in India. The report further reveals 83 percent of the Congress candidate (69 out of 83) and 78 percent of the BJP candidates (65 out of 83) have declared their assets to be more than 10 million INR. The Congress has promised to implement the ‘Minimum Income Guarantee Scheme’ (NYAY), a bank transfer of INR 6000 per month to 500 million poorest of the poorest 20 percent families in India if it comes to power. The failure of the grand old party in allotting seats to the poorest in the elections completely exposes the hollowness of its NYAY promise, a sad testament of their continued neglect and apathy in Indian society. The gender breakdown of candidates in the first round of elections reveal that 1117 are men and only 89 are women, exposing the fault lines in political parties commitment and hypocrisy in bringing a legislation for reserving seats for women in parliament.

The states that are going to polls include Andhra Pradesh (25 seats), Telangana (17), Uttar Pradesh (8), Maharashtra (7), Arunachal Pradesh (2), Uttarakhand (5), Assam (5), Bihar (4), Odisha (4), Jammu & Kashmir (2), West Bengal (2), Meghalaya (2), Chhattisgarh (1), Manipur (1), Mizoram (1), Nagaland (1), Sikkim (1), Tripura (1), Andaman and Nicobar Islands (1) and Lakshadweep (1). A review of the results of the Parliamentary Constituencies (PC) in the General Elections 2014 reveals that the NDA won 50 seats (BJP 31 and allies 19), UPA won 5 seats (Congress 5 and allies 0) and the rest of the seats were won by regional parties which included, TRS 11, YRSCP 8, BJD 4, TMC 2 and others 11. An overview of this phase of the election is important to find out how would the political parties fare in this election and the BJP and the Congress would hold on to its tally of 36 seats or would cede more space to the regional parties in lower house of the parliament.

The 2014 Lok Sabha election in undivided Andhra Pradesh witnessed a triangular contest between the Chandrababu Naidu led TDP-BJP coalition, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy led YSRCP and the Congress. The TDP alliance did quite well in the Coastal region of the state with TDP winning 15 parliamentary seats, the BJP 2 and the YSRCP 3. However, in Rayalseema it was the YSRCP that had an upper hand as it won 5 out of the eight seats in the region, while the TDP had to be content with 3 seats and its ally BJP drawing a blank. The Congress bore the brunt of the Andhra citizens for dividing the state and could not open an account of Lok Sabha seats in the state. The TDP won the parallel assembly elections, reaffirming the electoral trend in Andhra Pradesh that the party that wins the Lok Sabha election also forms the state government.

The 2019 elections in Andhra Pradesh is a multi polar contest between the TDP, the YSRCP, Pawan Kalyan's Jana Sena Party (JSP), the BJP and the Congress, but ground zero reports suggest that it is mainly between the TDP and the YSRCP. The build up to the elections witnessed the TDP blaming the BJP for not granting ‘Special Category Status’ to Andhra Pradesh and commensurate funds required for rebuilding the bifurcated state. Modi responded to the charges attacking the TDP for quitting the alliance, as the Centre has provided more and enough funds. The YSRCP campaign focussed on TDPs failure on completing the work of constructing a new capital, Amravati, the Polavaram irrigation project and a steel factory at Kadapa and highlighting the numerous corruption charges of TDP leaders and cadres. The poll promise of YSRCP to get special category status for the state from the next government that comes to power in Delhi creates a win-win narrative that could electorally benefit the party.

In coastal Andhra, the YRSCP is hoping to retain the Araku (ST), Ongole and Nellore, though the sitting MP from Araku Geetha Kothapalli has quit the party in 2016 and formed her own party the Jana Jagruthi Party. TDP turncoat, sitting Lok Sabha MPs Pandula Ravindra Babu from Amalapuram (SC) will add some muscle to YSRCP in his constituency. Another TDP turncoat Muttamsetti Srinivasa Rao from Anakapalli who is contesting from Bhimili Assembly increases YSRCP’S Chances of wresting the seats from its traditional rival, the TDP. The YSRCP strengthened its support base in Rayalseema and continues to hold its political sway, and is most likely to corner the majority of Lok Sabha seats in the region.

The key parliamentary constituencies in public spotlight include Bapatla (SC), where the sitting TDP MP Sriram Malyadri is hoping for a sixth Lok Sabha term and Guntur, where the incumbent TDP MP Jayadev Galla is pitted against a former TDP heavyweight on YRSCP ticket. The seats of Kakinada, Narasaraopet and Rajahmundry a likely to witness a fierce triangular contest between the TDP, YSRCP and the JSP as mobilization of Kapu vote by JSP could damage the prospects of TDP that won all the three seats in last election. The BJP had won the Narasapuram and Visakhapatnam seats in 2014, but the absence of a political ally could make it hard to retain these seats. The saffron party seems to have a quid pro quo arrangement with the YRSCP for keeping its flag aloft in Andhra Pradesh with tactical voting in some seats to benefit each other.

The adjoining state of Telangana also goes to polls to elect 16 Lok Sabha parliamentarians on 11 April and the contest seems to be heavily loaded in favour of Telengana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) led by K Chandrashekhara Rao (KCR). KCR, who was at the forefront for the creation of the new state, won the simultaneous elections in 2014 comfortably, as the TRS won 11 (14 after three MPs of the TDP, YSRCP and the Congress switched sides) out of the 17 seats and formed the first government in the state. The decision of KCR to advance the assembly elections by six months was a huge political gamble, but it paid off, as the TRS swept the election by winning 88 out of the 119 assembly seats with 47 percent vote share. The Congress-TDP alliance in the state election was a disaster, as Chandrababu Naidu’s (who opposed the demand for Telangana state) presence backfired for the Congress, which could win a paltry 19 seats with 28 percent votes.

The TRS has fielded candidates in 15 Lok sabha seats, leaving Hyderabad for Asaduddin Owaisi led All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul-Muslimeen (AIMIM). There is no alliance between the TRS and AIMIM, but the electoral understanding between the two parties will result in mobilizing of Muslim (13 percent of population) electorate for TRS. The TRS is relying on its achievement of constructing the Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation project on Godavari river and the Rythu Bandhu--an agriculture investment support scheme, which provides farmers Rs. 4,000 per acre per season for purchase of seeds, fertilisers and pesticides for mobilizing the electorate. The TRS is way ahead of its rivals, the BJP and the Congress, and is expected to sweep the elections in Telangana.

In Uttarakhand, the elections will be held in all the 5 parliamentary constituencies that include Tehri Garhwal, Garhwal, Almora (SC), Nainital-Udhamsingh Nagar and Hardwar. The BJP had won all the seats in 2014 elections and is hoping to repeat its performance. The contest in Garhwal, a BJP stronghold, is grabbing the headlines as BJP’s sitting MP Tirath Singh Rawat is being challenged by Manish Khanduri, son of former chief minister and senior BJP leader B C Khanduri on a Congress ticket. The BJP has the edge in the Hill state and could end up winning four or all the five seats.

In Uttar Pradesh, 8 seats in the western region of the state that include Kairana, Muzzaffarnagar, Baghpat, Ghaziabad, Meerut, Saharanpur, Bijnor and Gautam Buddh Nagar is going to polls, all won by the BJP in General elections 2014. In this election, the BJP is up against an alliance of the SP, BSP and the RLD (combined vote share 42.7 percent in 2014) with a committed support base of Yadavs, Jatavs and Jats respectively. The alliance is banking on caste and Muslim arithmetic to defeat the BJP’s dominance in the state. The Bagpat seat will witness a fierce fight between BJPs candidate Satyapal Singh a Jat strongman and minister of state of HRD in the outgoing BJP government and Jayant Chaudhary of RLD, political heir of Ajit Singh and Chaudhary Charan Singh. The Dalits constitute between 10-20 percent while the Muslims are 20-40 percent of the electorate in the seat and the success of RLD depends upon the mobilization of these two communities. The Kairana seat is a triangular contest between the BJP’s Pradeep Chaudhary, the alliance candidate Tabassum Hassan and Harinder Malik of the Congress. The BJPs denial of seat to Mriganka Singh daughter of political heavyweight Hukum Singh has created dissensions in the saffron cadres in the constituency providing Tabassum Hasan the edge to retain the seat she won in bye-elections in 2018.

Muzaffarnagar is a key constituency that would witness a direct contest between Ajit Singh of RLD and the BJP sitting MP Sanjeev Balyan, one of the accused in Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, which brought rich electoral dividends to the saffron party in western UP. The communal divide has been abridged, but the fault lines are still latent and could be exploited by political parties for mobilization of votes on religious basis. The Dalits constitute between 10-20 percent of the electorate in this constituency, while the Muslims account for 20-40 percent and the electoral prospects of Ajit Singh depends upon the consolidation of Jats, Dalits and the Muslims communities. The BJP is expecting to retain the Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddh Nagar PCs represented by General VK Singh and Mahesh Sharma, erstwhile ministers in the Modi government with narrow victory margins. The election speech by Mayawati in Saharanpur directly asking the Muslim electorate to vote for the BSP-SP-RLD combine has stirred the hornet’s nest of communal politics. The BJP could leverage her comments for counter mobilization of Hindu votes and retain its electoral supremacy in the sugarcane region of UP.

In Maharashtra, the 7 constituencies going to polls, Wardha, Ramtek (SC), Nagpur, Bhandara-Gondiya, Gadchiroli-Chimur (ST), Chandrapur and Yavatmal-Washim are located in the Vidharba region. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance had won all the seven seats in 2014 capitalizing on twin anti-incumbency of the Congress-NCP alliance (national and state level) and rampant farmer’s suicides in the region. The agrarian distress in the last five years has worsened in the state with several protest march by the farmers, the prominent being the long Kisan March to Mumbai. The agitation ended after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis met the protestors and agreed to waive off farm loan of INR 24,000. The state faced a series of droughts severely affecting the rural economy and the schemes rolled out by the saffron government provided temporary relief to the framers, but their anger continues to simmer. The agrarian distress is a key poll issue in rural hinterland of Maharashtra and will be a determining factor in the election outcome in Vidharba region.

The key constituency in this round of election is Nagpur, where Union Minister Nitin Gadkari is facing a serious challenge from Nana Patole of the Congress. In 2014 elections, Nana Patole was elected on a BJP ticket from Bhandara-Gondiya PC, but quit the party in 2017 accusing the central government as authoritarian and anti-farmer and joined the Congress. The Yavatmal-Washim seat is a Shiv Sena bastion, but in this election it is witnessing a strong contest between the sitting MP Bhavna Gawli and the Congress candidate Manikarao Thakre. The internal rift in Sena and incumbency sentiments against Bhavna Gawli has reduced her chances of a successive fifth term from this seat, as she won the last election with a razor thin margin. The BJP- Shiv Sena combine will not be able to hold its tally of seven seats in 2019 elections and would certainly cede a couple of seats to the Congress-NCP alliance.

In Assam, the elections in the first phase would be held in the 5 constituencies--Tezpur, Kaliabor, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur, located in the upper region of the state. The Congress won the Kaliabor PC, while the BJP had won in the remaining four seats on 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The BJP victory in assembly elections in 2016 provides it the political traction to retain these seats and improve its overall tally in Assam in this election. The BJP has renewed its alliance with Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Bodoland Peoples Front (BPF). Kaliabor constituency is a Congress bastion as the ex chief minister Tarun Gogoi has been the MP thrice from this seat in 1990s. It will witness an interesting contest as incumbent MP, Gourav Gogoi of Congress is pitted against AGP candidate Moni Madhab Mahanta, jointly fielded by BJP allies. The eastern state of Odisha has been dominated by the BJD led by Naveen Patnaik, which swept the 2014 General elections by winning 20 out 21 seats. The four seats, with significant tribal population, that go to polls in the state include Kalahandi, Nabarangpur (ST), Berhampur and Koraput (ST) all in the BJD fold. The ruling BJD, facing a strong anti-incumbency in the election has dropped the sitting MPs in all the four seats. In Koraput (ST) seat, the sitting MP Jhinna Hikaka is replaced with his wife Kausalya, while in Kalahandi constituency, infamous for poverty, Patnaik has given ticket to Dharmagarh MLA Pushpendra Singh Deo in place of incumbent MP Arka Keshari Deo. The BJP is expecting to make inroads in Odisha and is likely to wrest a few seats in this round of election.

In Chattisgarh, while rural Bastar has traditionally voted for the Congress, the BJP seems to have tightened its grip in the urban areas. With almost 70 per cent voters from tribal communities, Bastar is also a Maoist stronghold. Since 1998, the BJP has won the Bastar Lok Sabha seat, which is reserved for scheduled tribes. Baidu Ram Kashyap will fight on a BJP ticket, but the tribal voters, who consider the Congress as pro-tribal and pro-poor, may tilt the votes in favour of Congress, which has fielded Dipak Baij—a young firebrand leader. The staggered voting in West Bengal begins in this phase with voters exercising their franchise in the parliamentary constituencies of Coochbehar (SC) and Alipurduar (ST) located in the tea garden belt. In 2014 elections, the TMC won both the seats, but the growing discontent among tea garden workers over low wages and lack of land rights has provided the BJP an opportunity to breach the citadel of Mamata Banerjee. The Alipurdar seat will witness a multi polar contest between sitting TMC MP Dilip Tirkey, Mili Orao from RSP, John Barla from BJP and the Congress candidate Mohanlal Basumata. Tirkey won the seat by a slim margin in 2014 elections.

In Bihar, 4 constituencies that go to polls include Gaya (SC), Nawada and Jamui (SC) in central region while Aurangabad is located in western Bihar. The BJP won three seats among the four and it ally LJNSP led by Ram Vilas Paswan won the Jamui seat. The BJP-LJNSP alliance received a boost in the state when JD (U) led by chief minister Nitish Kumar joined the NDA. The Congress-RJD alliance with a few smaller parties as partners emerged as a tough contender, but the family feud in RJD would weaken the electoral partnership and dent its chances of winning a substantial number of seats in the state. The contest in Jamui (SC) constituency in this election would be between sitting MP Chirag Kumar Paswan of LJNSP and Bhudeo Choudhary backed by RJD alliance. The contest in Gaya (SC) seat will be between Vijay Kumar of JD (U) and Jitan Ram Manjhi of HAM, an alliance partner of RJD-Congress combine.

In Jammu and Kashmir, Baramulla and Jammu constituency will go to polls in the first phase of elections. The Baramulla seat was won by PDP, led by Mehbooba Mufti, which was in alliance with the BJP in 2014 elections, while the Jammu seat went to BJP. Jammu will witness a contest between BJPs Jugal Kishore Sharma and the Congress candidate Raman Bhalla on the issues of Pulwama and Balakot air strikes. Baramulla will witness a multi-cornered contest, but the fight is primarily between Akbar Lone from the National Conference and Qayoom Wani of the PDP. The BJP has fielded Mohammad Maqbool War , while the Congress candidate is Farooq Ahmad Mir.

A number of North-Eastern states shall go to the polls on April 11. In 2014, Congresses Ninong Ering won in Arunachal east while BJP’S Khiren Rijiju, had won on a BJP ticket in Arunachal west. This time also, the Congress and the BJP shall battle it out in this tribal-dominated state, the latter having an advantage after the political chaos in 2015-16, following which most MLAs of the Congress party defected to the BJP. The main issues that shall inform voting choice in outer Manipur, dominated by Nagas, are the contentious Citizenship (Amendment) Bill 2016 and the demand for creating new districts, which has brewed tensions between the Meiteis and Nagas. In Mizoram, BJP’s Nirupam Chakma is pitched against MNF’s C Lalrosanga, while in Nagaland, NPF shall support Congress which has fielded former chief minister KL Chishi. Neiphiu Rio has been fielded again by the NDPP-BJP alliance. In Meghalaya, with more than 85 percent of the population belonging to the Schedule Tribes, the Congress veteran Vincent H Pala is seeking re-election for the third time in Shillong–where Congress has never lost since 1998; and in Tura the main contender is Agatha Sangma of ruling NPP. Sikkim shall see an interesting contest between the incumbent Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), the Sikkim National Congress and ex footballer’s Bhaichung Bhutias Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP). In Tripura west–a CPM stronghold, Sankar Prasad Dutta had won in 2014. This year CPM shall face tough contest from BJP’s Pratima Bhowmik.

Vishal Jolly of BJP and Kuldeep Rai Sharma of Congress will fight it out in Andaman and Nicobar Islands while the archipelago of Lakshadweep shall witness a contest between the NCP and the Congress party. The NCP has fielded sitting MP Mohammed Faizal, who will contest against Congress’s M Hamdullah Sayeed and Abdul Khader of BJP in the upcoming election.

To conclude, the first phase of General elections 2019 would maintain the status quo of previous election in terms of results, and the advantage is certainly with the regional parties.

About the Authors

Praveen Rai is a Political Analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi.

Dwaipayan Sanyal is a freelance Political Economist based in Noida, Uttar Pradesh.

Also Read: Regional Parties Face Saffron Heat in General Elections 2019

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