Indians queue up for voting

The meaning of the phenomenon is being debated.

By P.K.Balachandran

Colombo, May 8: The seven-phase Indian parliamentary elections, which began on April 19, finished its third phase on May 7. There are four more phases to go before polling ends on June 1.

283 of the 543 constituencies have been covered thus far. Results are to be announced on June 4.  

In the third phase, elections were held in 93 seats across 11 States and Union Territories. Five States, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Karnataka and Gujarat have completed voting thus far.

There were 1,332 candidates in the fray on May 7. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had fielded the largest number of candidates in this phase (82), followed by the Bahujan Samaj Party (79), and the Congress (68).

Voter Fatigue

The voter turnout in the third phase was low at between 60 and 63% In 2019, these constituencies had recorded a turnout of 67.33%. In the first phase, 66.14% had voted and in the second phase 66.71%.  

The lowest turnout of 57.34% was recorded in Uttar Pradesh (UP), a State which send the single largest number of MPs (80). In 2019, 60.01% had voted in UP. Gujarat, the home State of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his second in command Home Minister Amit Shah, showed only 58.98% polling this time.

Political commentators have said that there is “voter fatigue.” The life of the common man beset with problems like unemployment and high prices. And given the failure of the government to address these issues, he has become indifferent to the election.  The BJP’s campaign has not come out with a rescue plan to enthuse voting.

The low voter turnout has raised the question as to which party will be the gainer. Supporters of the BJP say that since the BJP is a cadre based party, its supporters would not boycott But supporters of the Congress say that the voter boycott is reflection of a widespread apathy, across party affiliation. Only the results on June 4 will reveal the truth.

Uemployment and rise in prices have been enduring problems in India, but they appear to be really pinching the common man now. People expected the Modi government to have addressed these issues in its ten-year stint. But are disappointed. The promise to give employment 20 million persons per year and put INR 1,500,000 in every Indian’s account has not been met.

Communal Propaganda

The Modi government’s election campaign has been based, not on its achievements, but on divisive issues like the Hindu-Muslim question. Modi is holding India’s 200 million Muslims responsible for all the ills of India and has accused the Congress party of working exclusively for the Muslims and the religious minorities, even going to the extent of saying that the Congress party manifesto is a “Muslim League” manifesto and that Pakistan wants Congress leader  Rahul Gandhi to be Prime Minister.

Modi has said that if Congress comes to power, farmers’ buffalos and married women’s gold necklace (the sacred Mangal Sutra) will be appropriated and given to Muslims. The latest fear he is trying to evoke is that a Congress government will take more Muslims and minorities in the Indian cricket team!

Political pundits attribute these ridiculous assertions as a sign of fear of losing. It is said that Modi believes that talking of his achievements will not get traction given the increasing income inequalities and rising employment.

There is even a doubt if his building a grand temple for Lord Ram in Ayodhya will help Modi. The Ram temple was an emotive issue so long as there was a struggle to demolish a 500-yearold mosque and build a Ram temple on the site. It is said that now that the struggle is over and the temple has been built, the issue has faded into the past.  


If one were to go by the results of the last parliamentary elections held in 2019, the ruling BJP would seem to have an edge in the third phase. It had swept the polls here in 2019. But this time round, the competition appears to be tough for reasons outlined above.  

There has been no major and striking terrorist attack staged by Pakistan of the kind which took place in 2019. The attack in Pulwama in which 44 Indian soldiers died, had made people rally behind Modi. With normal conditions prevailing now, issues of caste and other local level issues have come to the fore. And these issues are legion especially in North and West India. The Rajputs, Jats and Marathas are up in revolt over their grievances.  

There have also been issues relating to electoral candidates. The merits and demerits of individual candidates are now being considered. The BJP has changed a third of its candidates to refurbish the party’s image. But in many cases, the new candidates are corrupt defectors from rival parties. This trend has alienated party loyalists.

The other important factor is the absolute dominance of Modi and Amit Shah over the BJP, especially Modi’s bid to create a personality cult. This has alienated cadres who feel bottled up.

The Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh (RSS), which is the parent body of the BJP and which supplies dedicated field workers, has been side lined. The RSS is said to be inactive this time.

Modi is also accused of dividing rival parties by poaching on their leaders, first by accusing them of high corruption and threatening to jail them and when they bend, admit them to the BJP and give them election tickets. This has vitiated the national political culture and led to the alienation of the voter from elections.

The introduction of Electoral Bonds in 2018 had infused a new form of corruption. Businessmen bought these bonds in favour the BJP for billions of rupees in return for favours and protection from prosecution for economic crimes.

All these have not only diminished voter turnout but also the chances of the BJP getting 370 or 400 seats. Predictions about the numbers vary widely from 150 to 270 seats out of 543, while the official goal of the BJP is to get 370 seats on its own and 400 in alliance with other parties.

The general expectation is that if the BJP gets 272 seats (just crossing the half way mark) or less, the party will drop Modi and go for a new leader who can form a coalition government. Modi is seen as a monopolist who is no good at coalition politics.

On the other hand, if the BJP wins handsomely, it is said that he will change the Indian constitution to make India an out and out Hindu majoritarian state a “Hindu Rashtra”  marked by discrimination of Muslims and Christians. Affirmative action to raise the status of socially backward castes will also be watered down or abolished, it is alleged. But both have been vehemently denied by Amit Shah and other BJP leaders.

It is also feared that the growing deficit in democracy under Modi’s watch will widen if he is voted to power and that this could exacerbate relations with Western democracies which want to be in a strategic partnership with India to contain China.

The US and Canada have already taken up with India the alleged assassination by Indian agents of a Canadian citizen of Indian origin on Canadian soil and the attempt to kill an Indo-American on US soil. The US government has also castigated India for degrading democracy and curbing media freedom.