The voting in the third episode of Lok Sabha elections marked the completion of polling in more than fifty percent parliamentary constituencies (303 out of 543 seats) spread across twenty Indian States and Union Territories. The voter turnout in this phase of elections was around 66 percent, which is almost a carbon copy of the polling figures of General Elections 2014. The halfway recap of the ongoing election festival in the country reveals that electoral politics has become a high stake political war, as an innocent citizen had to pay with his life in the turf war in West Bengal. However, the higher turnout of women electorate over their male counterparts in the first two phases is one silver lining in this election. The allegations of EVM malfunctioning and tampering by the leaders of non-BJP parties perhaps betrays the anxiety of opposition parties who are envisioning a loss and is but a tacit admission that the NDA is ahead in the race.
The fourth phase of elections will be held in 71 parliamentary constituencies (PCs) spread across nine states of India that include Maharashtra (17), Rajasthan (13), Uttar Pradesh (13), West Bengal (8), Madhya Pradesh (6), Odisha (6), Bihar (5), Jharkhand (3) and Jammu and Kashmir (1). A recap of Lok Sabha elections in these seats 2014 in 115 shows that the NDA won 56 (BJP 45 and allies 11), UPA won 2 (Congress 2 and allies blank) and the remaining 13 seats were won by the regional parties.
In Maharashtra, polling in this phase will be held in the constituencies of Palghar (ST), Bhiwandi, Kalyan, Thane, Mumbai North, Mumbai North-West, Mumbai North-East, Mumbai North-Central, Mumbai South-Central and Mumbai South in Mumbai Thane region, Nandurbar (ST), Dhule, Dindori (ST) and Nashik in north, Maval in Konkan region and Shirur and Shirdi (SC) in western part of the state. In 2014 elections, the BJP-Shiva Sena won all the 14 seats, while the Congress-NCP alliance drew a blank. The political relationship between the saffron party and the Shiv Sena in the last five years received setbacks, as the Sena quit the alliance and went solo in the 2014 assembly elections. It patched up with BJP after the state elections, but again broke the alliance and went ballistic over Modi government and the saffron outfit. However, the larger cause of Hindutva and the ideological proximity forced them to bury their hatchet and unite for contesting against the Congress-NCP allies in the state. The non-BJP combination wasted plenty of time and energy in seat sharing dialogues, which could have been utilized for poll preparation and election strategies. The appointing of Milind Deora, son of former Union Oil Minister Murli Deora as Congress chief of Maharashtra unit on the eve of elections reveals that all is not well within the grand old party in the state.
The key PCs in the state that will witness a tough competition includes the Mumbai South that was won by Milind Deora in the 2004 and 2009 Lok Sabha polls before losing to Arvind Sawant of Shiv Sena in 2014. He is contesting from this seat against sitting MP Sawant with an endorsement from several prominent personalities who reside in this constituency that include Mukesh Ambani. The Congress has fielded film actor Urmila Matondkar from the Mumbai North Lok Sabha constituency against the sitting BJP MP Gopal Shetty, while in Mumbai North-West former Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam is up against sitting Shiv Sena MP Gajanan Chandrakant Kirtikar and in Mumbai North-Central Congress leader Priya Dutt is contesting against sitting BJP MP Poonam Mahajan. Dutt won the seat in 2009 elections before losing it to Mahajan in 2014 after a close electoral fight. The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance will be severely tested in this round of election as the Maharashtra Nirman Sena (MNS), an offshoot of Shiv Sena led by Raj Thackeray is publicly attacking them in public rallies and meetings. The MNS is neither in the electoral fray nor in an alliance with the Gandhi-Pawar led parties, but Thackeray’s acerbic speeches against the Hindutava establishments are drawing huge crowds and could undermine the prospects of the alliance.
The political spotlight in this round of elections will be on Hindi heartland state of Rajasthan, as the constituencies going to polls are Pali, Jodhpur, Barmer and Jalore in west, Udaipur (ST), Banswara (ST), Chittorgarh and Rajsamand and Bhilwara in south, Kota and Jhalawar-Baran in Haroti region, Ajmer in central Rajasthan and Tonk-Sawai Madhopur in Matsya region. The Modi wave swept the state and the BJP in alliance with the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party won all the 25 seats in the 2014 elections with an impressive 56 percent vote share. However, electoral tide turned against the saffron party in 2018, as it lost the state assembly elections and the Congress formed the government by winning 100 out of the 200 seats while the BJP won 73 seats, BSP six seats, independents 13 seats while the remaining eight were shared by Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP), Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), CPM and Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP). The BJP’s loss of seven percent vote share was gained by the Congress as compared with 2013 assembly elections. The reasons for the saffron party’s loss was due to the failure of Vasundhara Raje government in quelling the anger of the Rajput community over the release of film Padmaavat, sealing the main entrance of Raj Mahal in Jaipur and the growing discontent of Jat community in Bharatpur-Dhopur region for reservation under the OBC category. The issues of caste conflict between the Jats and the Gujjars for increasing the OBC quota, the Chief Minister’s failure in fulfilling the promise of previous election in providing 1.5 million new jobs and the agrarian crisis further compounded the problems of the BJP.
The main issues in Rajasthan elections is agrarian distress and unemployment, but the BJP’s stratagem is to sidetrack these concerns by evoking nationalist sentiments on Pulwama attack on security forces and the Balakot air strikes on terror camps, especially in border districts of Pakistan. The Congress is banking on state government’s partial relief to farmers through loan waivers and instituting annual farmers’ budget every year. Further, Rahul Gandhi’s assurance of transferring the minimum income directly to Jan Dhan accounts in the NYAY scheme could be a game-changer. The Congress buoyed by its recent win refused to ally with the RLP and BTP, but the BJP was quick bringing RLP in NDA and allotted the Nagaur Lok Sabha seat to its president Hanuman Beniwal. The RLP chief has considerable influence among the dominant Jat community in Nagaur, Jodhpur, Ajmer and Barmer and could help the BJP prospects in these districts. The Congress received support from 12 independent MLAs in the state, which has further boosted its confidence in the elections.
The high profile contests include Vaibhav Gehlot, the son of Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot against G S Shekawat of the BJP in Jodhpur constituency and Manvendra Singh, son of BJP stalwart Jaswant Singh on a Congress ticket against BJP's Kailash Chaudhary in Barmer seat. In Chittorgarh, sitting BJP MP CP Joshi is up against Gopal Singh Idwa of the Congress. The political scenario seems to be in favour of the Congress in Rajasthan, but factionalism within the party and its failure to fully implement the loan waiver in farming sector may dampen its winning prospects. Modi continues to be popular and the voter’s anger was more against Vasundhara Raje than the BJP, and her exit from the state could help the cause of the saffron party. The Congress will wrest some seats from the BJP in this round of elections.
In Uttar Pradesh, polling in the fourth phase will be held in 13 seats of Kheri, Hardoi (SC) and Misrikh (SC) in Avadh region, Unnao, Farrukhabad, Etawah (SC), Kannauj, Kanpur and Akbarpur in Doab area, Jalaun (SC), Jhansi and Hamirpur in Bundelkhand and Shahjahanpur (SC) in Ruhelkhand region. The BJP, riding high on Modi wave had won 12 out of the 13 seats, while the SP won the Kannauj PC with a razor thin margin.
The key PCs in this phase of election include Kannauj, a SP borough, which was won by Dimple Yadav of the SP in 2014. She is contesting against Subrat Pathak of the BJP, while the Congress has not fielded a candidate in this seat as a part of informal seat sharing arrangement with the SP in the state. In Kanpur seat, the sitting MP and BJP stalwart Murli Manohar Joshi has vacated the seat and the saffron party has fielded Satyadev Pachauri against Sri Prakash Jaiswal of the Congress and Shree Ram Kumar of SP. The Unnao seat will witness a tough contest between the controversial sitting BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj, Arun Kumar Shukla of SP and Anu Tandon of the Congress. The Etawah constituency has been the home turf of the SP, as the party won three out of the four Lok Sabha elections in the last twenty years. The BJP has fielded Ramashankar Katheria from this seat, as sitting MP Ashok Kumar Doharey quit the party and shall be contesting on a Congress ticket from here. Kamlesh Katheria of SP is the other candidate in the reckoning. In Jhansi, the BJP has replaced its sitting MP with Anurag Sharma. He is locked in a three way electoral contest with Shiv Saran Kushwah of the Congress and Shyam Sunder Singh Yadav of SP. The BJP is facing a formidable challenge from the SP-BSP-RLD alliance in the state and could end up losing a few seats in this phase, provided the mutual transfer of votes among the alliance is successful and the majority of Muslim voters rally behind the regional formation.
The election in West Bengal in this phase will take place in 8 parliamentary constituencies that include Baharampur, Krishnanagar and Ranaghat (SC) in southeast and Bardhaman Purba (SC),
Bardhaman, Durgapur, Asansol, Bolpur (SC) and Birbhum in southwest region. The TMC won six out of the eight seats in Lok Sabha elections 2014, while the BJP and the Congress managed to win one seat each. The Baharampur constituency will witness a contest between sitting MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury of the Congress, Apurba Sarkar of TMC, Krishna Juardar Arya of the BJP and Eid Mohammed of Revolutionary Socialist Party. In Krishnanagar, the TMC has dropped its sitting MP actor Tapas Paul and fielded Mohua Moitra, a sitting MLA and the party spokesperson who will compete against Kalyan Chaubey, a former Indian footballer on a BJP ticket, and Shantanu Jha of CPI (M). In Asansol, a template of poll violence in Bengal, sitting MP and union minister Babul Supriyo is pitted against actor of yesteryears Moon Moon Sen of TMC and Gourango Chatterjee of CPI (M). The Birbhum seat will see a multi candidate competition between sitting MP Satabdi Roy of TMC, Rezaul Karim of CPI(M) Imam Hossain of Congress and Dudh Kumar Mondol of BJP.
The election in Madhya Pradesh will kick start in six PCs that are Sidhi and Shahdol (ST) in Vindhya Pradesh and Jabalpur, Mandla (ST), Balaghat and Chhindwara in Mahakoshal region. In 2014 elections, the saffron wave in the state resulted in BJP winning 26 out of the 29 PCs, while the Congress could manage to win three seats. However, the saffron party received a major electoral jolt in Madhya Pradesh assembly elections in 2018, as the Congress 114 out of the 230 assembly seats and formed a government under the stewardship of led by Kamal Nath. The BJP won in 109 assembly constituencies with 41 percent vote share, 0.1 percentage points higher than the grand old party of India.
The main issue in state elections was agrarian distress that led to a violent protest by the land tillers in Mandsaur in 2017 and police firing that followed led to five deaths and injuries to several farmers. It was further compounded by the failure of the BJP government in waiving off farm loans, rising incidence of farmer’s suicides, Vyapam scam (State Board that selects candidates for government posts), unemployment among the educated, and drought and water scarcity. The Congress promise of waiving farm loans and a holistic vision of cow protection cut ice with the electorate and it won the elections.
The election competition in 2019 will be mainly between the BJP and the Congress, but the BSP alliance with the SP and the Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP) in Madhya Pradesh could be a force to reckon with in few constituencies. The BSP will contest from 26 seats; the SP from Khajuraho and Tikamgarh seats, while the GGP will contest from Mandla. The Congress is relying on the twin issues of agrarian crisis and Modi government’s failure in providing gainful employment, to win the election. On the other hand, the BJP is banking Modi’s popularity and welfare schemes like Ujjwala (free cooking gas cylinders to women), Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and the PM Kisan Samman Nidhi and Ayushman Bharat to retain its stronghold in the state.
The parliamentary seat of Chhindwara is a home constituency of chief minister Kamal Nath as he won 10 times since 1980. The Congress fielded his son Nakul Nath, who will contest against Natthan Shah of the BJP and Gyaneshwar Gajbhiye of the BSP. In Jabalpur seat, the BJP has once again nominated sitting MP Rakesh Singh against Congress’s Vivek Tankha. In Balaghat, the BJP has fielded Dhal Singh Bisen against Madhu Bhagat of the Congress and Kankar Munjare of BSP.
The final phase of election in Odisha will take place in the remaining seats of Mayurbhanj (ST) in western region and Balasore, Bhadrak (SC), Jajpur (SC), Kendrapara and Jagatsinghpur (SC) in the coastal belt of the state. The BJD, which had won all the six seats in General elections 2014, is facing a major challenge from the BJP and seems to be losing its political grip in the state. The spotlight in the concluding phase of election is Kendrapara constituency, a BJD bastion since 1998. The former BJD heavy weight Baijayant ‘Jay’ Panda who joined the saffron party is contesting against popular Odia actor Anubhav Mohanty of BJD. The contest has turned into a battle of prestige, as Naveen Patnaik is using all his might to defeat Jay Panda.
In Bihar, the five PCs going to polls include Darbhanga, Ujiarpur, Samastipur (SC) and Begusarai in north Bihar and Munger in the central region. The BJP won three seats, while it ally, the LJNSP, lapped the remaining two seats in 2014 national hustings. The most watched constituency in this round of elections is Begusarai, once a Left bastion, where CPI has fielded former JNU student’s union president, Kanhaiya Kumar to revive its past political glory. He is pitted against BJP union minister Giriraj Singh and MD Tanweer Hassan of RJD. Kanhaiya Kumar, who is facing sedition charges for his anti-national speech in JNU a few years ago, is receiving support from senior left leaders and prominent theatre and film personalities. The RJD candidate Hassan has a strong support base and he could spoil Kumar’s chances of making it to parliament from this PC.
In adjoining state of Jharkhand, the inaugural of Lok Sabha election will take place in the PCs of Chatra in north and Lohardaga (ST) and Palamau (SC) in southern region. The saffron party sweeped the elections in 2014 by winning 12 out of the 14 seats while the other two was won by Shibu Soren-led Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM). However, the BJP is facing a tough competition from the Grand alliance formed between the Congress, JVM (P) led by Babulal Marandi (the first chief minister of the state), JMM and the RJD. The BJP has stuck an alliance with the All Jharkhand Student’s Union (AJSU) led by Sudesh Mahto, which will contest in one seat.
To conclude, the Congress seems poised to reclaim some lost political ground in this round of elections and improve upon its tally of two seats in 2014 elections to a double-digit score. The first four phases of parliamentary election would confer a mandate, and the polling in remaining seats would be like the slog-overs of a T20 cricket match. The political establishments will throw caution to winds and resort to unorthodox electoral techniques to increase its final tally of seats.
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.