The second round of General elections 2019 in India is a continuation of the inaugural phase in terms of stagnant electoral turnout, poll related skirmishes and EVM malfunctioning at multiple voting booths. The elections is missing the euphoric groundswell and voters enthusiasm of 2014 hustings, and even after two rounds of citizens exercising the franchisee, predicting the direction of the mandate draws a parallel with blind men and the elephant parable. In the third phase of elections, polling will take place in 12 states and 2 union territories that include Gujarat (26), Kerala (20), Karnataka (14), Maharashtra (14), Uttar Pradesh (10), Chhattisgarh (7), Odisha (6), Bihar (5), West Bengal (5), Assam (4), Goa (2), Jammu and Kashmir (1), Dadra and Nagar Haveli (1) and Daman and Diu (1). A snapshot of General Elections 2014 in 115 parliamentary constituencies (PCs) reveals that the NDA won 67 seats (BJP 62 and allies 5), UPA won 25 (Congress 16 and allies 9), Left 9 and the remaining 11 seats were won by the provincial parties.
The main focus in this round of battle for ballots would be on Gujarat, home turf of Prime Minster Narendra Modi, as the BJP registered a landslide victory in previous Lok Sabha elections by winning all the 26 seats in the state. The state assembly elections held in 2017 witnessed a Congress surge in Gujarat as it won 77 out of the 182, a gain of 16 seats as compared to previous state election. The regional disaggregation of the outcome shows that the BJP lost one seat in North, South and Kutch, two seats in Central Gujarat and lost 11 seats in Saurashtra, a saffron bastion. The gains for the Congress were restricted to Saurashtra region and tribal dominated areas. However, the saffron party won the state election with its tally missing the century mark (99 assembly seats), but it continues to be a force majeure in Gujarat politics, as its votes share is still eight percent higher than the grand old party.
The BJPs dominance in state politics has been due to a strong demographic consolidation in 1990s that ended the winning caste community vote bank of Congress. The population of Gujarat comprises of 11 percent Kshatriyas, 12 percent Patidars (Patels), 40 percent OBC, 7 percent Dalits, 14 percent Adivasis, 9 percent Muslims and 7 percent other castes. Among the numerically largest section of the OBC, 22 percent are Kolis, 20 percent Thakors and the rest are a rainbow of smaller castes. The consolidation of the Patidars, OBC and the Brahmin electorate by the BJP created a winning caste calculus that numerically trumped the Congress support base of Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims (KHAM) and has been the mainstay of the saffron establishments since the last three decades. There are several reasons for the BJP taking a beating in Gujarat assembly elections, but it could be narrowed to agrarian crisis in rural hinterland, swing of votes in tribal region and dent in its support base by the trio of Hardik Patel, the leader of Patidar agitation, Alpesh Thakore, OBC youth leader and Jignesh Mewani, a Dalit activist.
The electoral momentum gained by the Congress in Gujarat dissipated in the build up to Lok Sabha elections, as 5 MLAs in Saurashtra-Kutch region deserted the party and joined the BJP. The party received further setbacks, when Hardik Patel who joined the Congress was barred by Supreme Court to contest elections and Alpesh Thakore calling it quits on the eve of elections. The BJP is once again banking on the appeal of Modi’s Guajarati pride, and its proposal of 10 percent reservation in jobs to economically weaker sections among upper castes may help to swing back Patidar votes in its favour. Further the nomination of Amit Shah from Gandhinagar will energise saffron cadres and turn the clock back on losses suffered during the assembly elections. The issues informing the urban electorate are primarily employment concerns and the rising menace of traffic jams and air pollution in big cities; while the main concern in the countryside include irrigation, affordable farm credit and subsidised seeds and fertilisers.
The four parliamentary seats reserved for Scheduled Tribes, Chhota Udaipur, Dahod, Bardoli and Valsad and Bharuch, a non-reserved but tribal dominated seat will be a litmus test for the BJP after it managed to win only nine out of the 27 seats. The saffron party has renominated its sitting MPs: Jaswantsinh Bhabhor from Dahod against former BJP MP Babu Katara on a Congress ticket, K.C. Patel from Valsad against sitting Congress MLA Jitu Chaudhary and Prabhu Vasava from Bardoli against former Congress Union Minister Tushar Chaudhary. The incumbent BJP MP in Chhota Udaipur, Ramsinh Rathwa has been replaced by Geeta Rathwa who will take on Ranjit Rathwa of Congress. Bharuch will witness an interesting clash between two political veterans; the BJP’s sitting MP Mansukh Vasava against sitting MLA and Bhartiya Tribal Party chief Chhotubhai Vasava. The main demands of the tribes in Gujarat like in other parts of the country are employment, education, healthcare, forest rights and water for irrigation.
The parliamentary constituencies of Amreli and Junagadh located in Saurastra region will witness a tough fight between the incumbent BJP and the Congress, which made significant gains mainly by addressing issues concerning farm distress, water scarcity and low prices of agriculture products. The Congress has fielded its leader of opposition in Gujarat Assembly, Paresh Dhanani, from Amreli seat in Saurastra region, against two-time BJP MP Naran Kachhadiya. The Congress had won five out of the seven Assembly segments falling under this seat in the 2017 Gujarat elections. The promises made by the Congress in its manifesto to have a separate farmers' budget and assurance of farm loan waiver will have a positive impact on the rural electorate. The BJP MP Kachhadiya is banking on the works done by him that include conversion of metre-gauge railway tracks into broad-gauge, better connectivity through national highway and the installation of an FM radio station in Amreli.
In Junagadh, the BJP has fielded sitting MP Rajesh Chudasama to contest against Congress MLA Punja Vansh, who lost the previous elections by a margin of over one lakh votes. However, the Congress won all the seven assembly seats in 2017 elections as the support of Hardik Patel, who led the Patidar agitation, led to a major shift of Patidar votes away from the BJP. The Patidars is a dominant caste in Junagadh, which along with the numerically strong Kolis play a crucial role in determining the election outcome in this seat. Apart from these seats in Gujarat, the Congress fancies its chances in the parliamentary constituencies of Anand, Surendranagar, Porbandar, Banaskantha, Sabarkantha, Mehsana and Patan, as the saffron party won them in 2014 election by a slender margin of forty to sixty thousand votes. The Gujarati electorate is all set to endorse Modi’s quest for a second term in Lutyens Delhi, but the Congress may wrest half a dozen seats from BJPs ambit and reduce the sweep of the saffron mandate.
The elections in 20 parliamentary constituencies of Kerala will see a triangular competition between Left Democratic Front (LDF) led by the CPI (M), United Democratic Front (UDF) led by the Congress and the BJP in alliance with two state parties. In the Lok Sabha election 2014, the UDF won 12 seats, the LDF 8, while the BJP failed in opening its account. As a part of seat sharing arrangement, CPI (M) the dominant partner in Left front will contest in 16 seats, while the CPI will field candidates in four seats. The CPI (M) is backing two women and two independent candidates, while other coalition partners of LDF government in the state has not been assigned any seats to contest the elections. In UDF, the Congress is competing in 16 seats, while its allies the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in 2 and the Kerala Congress (M) and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) will contest in one seat each. The BJP has struck a formal alliance with the Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) and Kerala Congress, and the saffron party is contesting in 14 seats, while its ally the BDJS is fielding candidates in five seats and the Kerala Congress led by P.C Thomas in one. The two arch rivals, the CPI (M) and the Congress will engage in an electoral clash in 12 constituencies, while its allies will lock horns in the remaining eight seats.
The three issues in Kerala that prominently figured in the electoral discourse include first the Supreme Court order of allowing the entry of menstruating women in Sabarimala temple and the subsequent disaffection among a large section of the electorate arising from the LDF governments enforcement of the verdict in Travancore region; second, the big flood that inundated southern region and the dissatisfaction with the relief operations undertaken so far by the state government and third, the growing incidence of political violence and murders of party workers in the northern areas of the state. For decades, north Kerala has been a battleground for the left and the right parties but ominously, over time, the gruesome murders in the northern part of the state took the centre stage. The parties are campaigning to stir up voter sentiments by focusing on the killings of its cadres for electoral gains. In Kannur in Malabar region, epicentre of political violence and homicide intrigues, sitting MP PK Sreemathi of the CPI (M) is once again pitted against the Congress’s K Sudhakaran. In previous election, Sreemathi won by a razor thin margin of half percent vote share. In Vadakara, the CPI (M) has fielded P Jayarajan, who is facing criminal charges in the murder case of Abdul Shukkoor, a Muslim Students Federation activist and K. Manoj, an RSS worker. He is facing a stiff contest from K Muraleedharan of Congress, who has the backing of the Revolutionary Marxist Party. The killing of RMP leader T.P. Chandrasekharan seven years back, allegedly by CPIM cadres, has come back to haunt the prospect of the ruling LDF in this constituency.
The BJP has fielded K. Surendran, who spearheaded the agitation in Sabarimala to contest from Pathanamthitta, as he could catalyse the Hindu votes for the party. He will be engaged in a three-cornered fight between, the incumbent MP Anto Antony of Congress and the CPI (M)’s Aranmula Veena George. Thrissur is another PC that was engulfed in violence over the entry of women in Sabarimala shrine, and will witness a tough triangular contest between, Thushar Vellappaly, party president of BDJS against TN Pratapan, district president of the Congress and Rajaji Mathew Thomas of CPI. The BDJS enjoys the support of the backward Hindu Ezhavas, which could help the BJPs cause in other constituencies of the state. In Kozhikode, the CPI (M) buoyed by its success in 2016 state elections, has fielded sitting MLA and star campaigner A Pradeep Kumar to stop Congress’s MK Raghavan from winning a third straight term from this seat. The parliamentary seat that is hogging the limelight in Kerala is Thiruvananthapuram, where the BJP stood second in 2014. This time, it has fielded former Mizoram Governor, Rajasekharan Kummanam against the two-time Congress MP, Shashi Tharoor and C Divakaran of CPI.
The LDF victory in state elections 2016 make them the favourites to win a majority of the seats this time, in record of the fact that the electorate in Kerala alternate between UDF and LDF every five years. However, the decision of Rahul Gandhi to contest from Wayanad and the BJP’s final electoral thrust could reverse the political trend in the state.
The 14 parliamentary constituencies in Karnataka going to polls include Chikkodi, Belgaum, Bagalkot, Bijapur (SC), Haveri and Dharwad in Mumbai Karnataka, Gulbarga (SC), Raichur (ST), Bidar and Koppal in Mumbai Karnataka, Bellary (ST), Davanagere and Shimoga in central region and Uttara Kannada in the coastal area of the state. In 2014 elections, the BJP won 11 out of the 14 seats, while the Congress registered a victory in the remaining three constituencies.
In Belgaum, a constituency with 60 percent Marathi-speaking population, the BJP sitting MP who won thrice from this seat is contesting against Virupakshi S Sadhunnavar of the Congress. The Bijapur seat represented by BJP union minister Ramesh Jigajinagi since 2009 will witness a tough challenge from Sunitha Devanand Chavan of JD(S) in this election. The Gulbarga seat is a Congress bastion represented by senior leader Mallikarjuna Kharge since 2009. In this election, Kharge is contesting against Umesh Jadhav of the Congress for a third consecutive victory. The Bellary seat, which came into public spotlight after Sonia Gandhi defeated BJP stalwart Sushma Swaraj, will be a tough fight between Congress sitting MP VS Ugrappa and Devendrappa from the BJP. The Uttara Kannada constituency in coastal Karnataka is considered a BJP fortress, as union minister, Ananthkumar Hegde has won it three times in a row thrice since 2004. He is seeking a re-election from this seat and is pitted against Anand Asnotikar of JD (S). The Shimoga parliamentary constituency has been the home turf of former chief minister S Bangarappa, before he suffered the only electoral loss to BS Yeddyurappa’s son BY Raghavendra in 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Raghavendra is contesting this election against Madhu Bangarappa of JD (S).
The BJP is facing an uphill task in Karnataka as the alliance between the Congress and JD (S) has made it tough to retain its tally of 17 seats won in the previous Lok Sabha elections. The saffron party is banking on Modi’s charisma and Yeddyurappa’s election management skills to minimize the combined strength of its political adversaries. The saffron party will perhaps cede a few seats to the Congress-JD (S) alliance in the state.
In Maharashtra, the Lok Sabha elections in third phase will be held in 14 seats that include Pune, Baramati, Ahmednagar, Madha, Sangli, Satara, Kolhapur and Hatkanangle in west, Jalgaon and Raver in north, Jalna and Aurangabad in Marathwada region and Raigad and Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg on Konkan. The NCP won four out of the six seats in the western region, while the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance won nine and Swabhiman Paksha (SWP) one seat. The Ahmednagar Lok Sabha constituency will witness an interesting fight between sitting MLA, Sangram Jagtap of NCP and Sujay Vikhe Patil who joined the BJP recently. Sujay is the son of a senior Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, while Sangram is the son of Arun Jagtap a NCP MLC.
The Aurangabad seat is a Shiv Sena stronghold, as Chandrakant Khaire has been the MP since 1999. The constituency will witness an interesting electoral competition as Khaire is locked in a multi polar fight with Imtiaz Jaleel of AIMIM, Subhash Zambad of the Congress and Abdul Sattar A Nabi, the MLA from Silod, who quit the Congress and is contesting as an independent candidate. The AIMIM is in alliance with Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi in the state. In Raigad, two time sitting MP Anant Geete of Shiv Sena’s is contesting against NCP Sunil Tatkare, while in Baramati, a NCP bastion, Sharad Pawar’s daughter and incumbent MP Supriya Sule is facing a serious challenge from Kanchan Kul of the BJP, as the saffron party is leaving no stone unturned to defeat her. In Hatkanangle constituency, Raju Shetti, the president of SWP has been the MP since 2009. The main contender against Shetti is Dhairyasheel Mane of Shiv Sena. The BJP-Shiv Sena combine will continue its dominance in this round of elections, but anti-incumbency against sitting MPs and local factionalism could lead to a loss of few seats.
In Uttar Pradesh, the ten seats going to polls in this phase of election are Moradabad, Rampur, Sambhal, Badaun, Aonla, Bareilly, Pilibhit and Firozabad in Ruhelkand and Mainpuri and Etah in Doab region of the state. The BJP won in seven PCs, while the SP won three seats in General Elections 2014. The elections in UP seems to be do or die battle for the BJP and the SP-BSP-RLD alliance, as two leaders from the saffron party and the BSP Supremo received temporary gag orders from the ECI for mobilizing the electorate on religious grounds. A senior leader of the SP was banned from campaigning for passing sexist remarks on a female competitor. The election in UP is gravitating on mobilization of the voters on caste and religious identity making it difficult to fathom the formation that will eventually triumph in the state.
In Rampur, the BJP is banking on Jaya Prada to defeat the SP heavyweight Azam Khan in this election, as his anti women comments could lead to gender divide among the voters, benefitting the saffron party. The Congress has fielded Sanjay Kapoor, who could cut into the vote banks of both the parties and spoil their winning chances. The Badaun seat will witness a contest between sitting MP, Dharmendra Yadav of SP, Saleem Iqbal Shervani of the Congress and Sanghmitra Maurya of BJP. The Pilibhit PC has been the bastion of Maneka Gandhi, who has been elected as an MP six times since 1989. She has vacated the seat for his son Varun Gandhi, who is fighting on a BJP seat against Hemraj Verma of SP, former Food and Civil Supplies minister. The Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat is a SP citadel, as the founder of the party Mulayam Singh Yadav has won it four times since 1996. The SP patriarch is contesting against Prem Singh Shakya of the BJP, while the Congress has decided not to contest from this seat. The BJP may lose a few seats to its arch rivals, but the RSS is working overtime with a door to door campaign to ensure that the saffron juggernaut is not severely jolted by the anti BJP alliance.
In Chhattisgarh, the seven PCs going to polls in the concluding phase of elections in the state are Surguja (ST), Raigarh (ST) and Korba in the north and Jangir-Champa (SC), Bilaspur, Durg and Raipur in central region. In 2014 elections, the Modi wave brought rich electoral dividends for the BJP that won 10 out of the 11 seats in the state, while the Congress had to be content with one seat only. However, the BJP suffered one of its worst electoral defeats as the Congress made a fantastic comeback by winning 68 out of the 90 on poll promise of farm loan waiver and empowerment of the backward and tribal communities in the state. The Baghel government is relying on paddy procurement by state and an additional bonus of Rs 750 over and above the Central government’s minimum support price of Rs 1,750 per quintal, which combined with the Congress promise of Rs 72,000 every year to the poorest for winning the elections. The BJP is banking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his welfare schemes like Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi and Ayushman Bharat Scheme and dropping all the sitting MPs to buck anti incumbency.
The parliamentary constituencies that will witness a fierce competition include the Bilaspur seat, where the Congress state general secretary Atal Shrivastav is pitted against Arun Saw of the BJP. The grand old party has fielded Raipur Municipal Corporation Mayor Pramod Dubey in Raipur Lok Sabha constituency against Sunil Soni of the BJP.
The six PCs in this phase of elections in Odisha are Sambalpur and Keonjhar (ST) in west and Dhenkanal, Cuttack, Puri and Bhubaneswar in coastal region of the state. The BJD led by Naveen Patnaik won all the six seats in previous Lok Sabha elections. The BJD is facing dead heat from a saffron surge in the state and the most watched competitions are in the seat of Puri and Cutack. Puri is a BJD bastion since last two decades, currently represented by Pinaki Misra, a senior party functionary. The BJD has renominated Misra to fight against Sambit Patra, BJP’s national spokesperson. The Cuttack Lok Sabha is another BJD citadel, as sitting MP Bhartuhari Mahatab has been winning this seat since 1998. Mahatab, seeking another term is engaged in tough fight with and BJPs Prakash Mishra, former director general of Odisha police. In Bihar, the seats going to elections include Jhanjharpur, Supaul, Madhepura and Khagaria in north and Araria in eastern part of the state. The RJD and the BJP alliance won two seats each, while the Congress won in one seat in Lok Sabha elections 2014. The Madhepura Lok Sabha seat will see a multi polar contest between Sharad Yadav, who broke ranks with Nitish Kumar’s JD (U) for allying with the BJP and forming Loktantrik Janata Dal, sitting MP Pappu Yadav who quit RJD and floated Jan Adhikar Party Loktantrik and Dinesh Chandra Yadav of JD (U). The Araria seat will see a tough battle between Sarfaraz Alam of RJD, son of Mohammed Taslimuddin and Pradeep Kumar Singh of the BJP.
The election in this phase of election in West Bengal will be held in the constituencies of Balurghat, Maldah Uttar and Maldah Dakshin in north Bengal and Jangipur and Murshidabad in southeast region of the state. The PCs are rural with a Muslim catchment as they form more than 40 percent of the population. In 2014 elections, the Congress won three seats, while the ruling establishment TMC and the CPI (M) won one seat each. In Murshidabad , Badaruddozza Khan of CPI (M) won this Congress bastion in 2014 in a tri-cornered fight between the Congress, Left front and the TMC. This time around, there shall again be a triangular contest between Khan of CPI (M), Abu Taher Khan of TMC and Abu Hena of the Congress. The Jangipur seat is represented by Abhijit Mukherjee of the Congress, the son of former president Pranab Mukherjee. In this election, he is contesting against his main contender Zulfikar All of CPI (M).
The predominantly Muslim inhabitants and migrant workers play an important role in shaping the election outcome in Maldah district Bengal. In Uttar Maldah, sitting MP Mausam Noor shifted her allegiance from the Congress to TMC and is engaged in a tough contest with Khagen Murmu of the BJP and Biswanath Ghosh of the CPI (M), while in Dakshin Maldah the sitting MP Abu Hasem Khan Choudhary, brother of the late Congress stalwart ABA Ghani Khan Choudhary, will fight it out with Moazzem Hossain of TMC and Sreerupa of the BJP. The BJP has been making inroads in this area, so the election will be an interesting spectacle with all the prominent parties in the fray jostling for political space.
The elections in Assam in this phase will take place in four seats of Dhubri, Kokrajhar (ST), Barpeta and Guwahati in the lower region of the state. In 2014 elections, the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) led by perfume baron Maulana Badruddin Ajmal won two seats, while the BJP and an independent candidate shared the other two seats. The Guwahati Lok Sabha constituency will witness a triangular contest between Queen Oja of BJP, Bobbeeta Sharma of Congress and Manoj Sharma on a TMC ticket. In Dhubri seat, sitting MP and chief of AIUDF, Badruddin Ajmal is facing a tough fight from Abu Taher Bepari of Congress, Zabed Islam of AGP and Nurul Islam Choudhury of TMC. The AIUDF has dropped its sitting MP Sirajuddin Ajmal, brother of party chief and nominated Hafiz Rafiqul Islam to contest against Abdul Khaleque of Congress and the BJP-AGP alliance candidate Kumar Dipak Das, a former Rajya Sabha MP.
In Goa, the BJP will miss the presence of its charismatic leader Manohar Parrikar, who passed away this year. The saffron party has once again fielded Shripad Yesso Naik, current Union Minister of AYUSH in the Modi government, who will fight from the North Goa constituency and sitting MP Narendra Keshav Sawaikar will contest from South Goa. The Congress candidates for these two seats will be Girish Chodankar from North Goa and Francisco Sardinha from South Goa. The Aam Aadmi Party led by Arvind Kejriwal has also joined the electoral fray with Dattatraa Padgaonkar contesting from North Goa, while the party’s Goa unit convenor Elvis Gomes will fight from South Goa.
The election for Anantnag Lok Sabha seat in Jammu and Kashmir will be held in three phases due to security reasons. The constituency is a PDP bastion as party Chief Mehbooba Mufti won in 2014. She will fight the election against Husnain Masoodi of National and Ghulam Ahmed Mir of the Congress. The Daman and Diu seat will witness a tight contest between Ketan Patel of the Congress and Lalubhai Patel of the BJP, while in Dadra and Nagar Haveli BJP’s sitting MP Natubhai Gomanbhai Patel will fight it out with Prabhu Ratnabhai Tokiya of the Congress.
To conclude, the BJP is likely to shed some political weight (number of seats) accumulated in the previous Lok Sabha elections, but it may retain its electoral dominance in this round if election.
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.