Poll 2014 enters decisive phase

India entered the intense phase in the marathon election for the 16th Lok Sabha on
17 April, taking the battle of the ballot from the periphery thus far into the vast hinterland covering all states but Kerala and Haryana where the fate of candidates has already been sealed. The first four phases beginning 7 April covered 111 seats.

Now, the grim fights begin in the latter half of April, when polling would be held in as many as 327 constituencies, taking the completed total to 438 seats for the 543-member Lok Sabha. That would have covered the entire country barring certain parts of UP, Bihar and West Bengal and the Seemandhra region of AP with its 25 seats. These areas, along with a few smaller pockets like UTs, would go to polls in the final two phases, 8th and 9th, on 7 and 12 May for the remaining 105 seats. The curtain would then be down for polling in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

As the poll processes conclude, the nation will be in a thrall for the verdict on 16 May, even as the world at large has kept its eyes unusually on this biggest, noisiest event with stakes for India’s future, not without some reserve about unknown combination of parties making the bid for power, if there is no decisive outcome in favour of the dominant BJP-led alliance.

By April end, the major parties and the regional players would have some idea of where possibly they all stand, as elections would have been over in all but three major states of UP, West Bengal and Bihar plus the Seemanadhra region. This is because even in such battleground states, roughly half the constituencies would have been polled. Thus, by 30 April, UP would have already voted for 37 out of its 80 seats, Bihar 27 out of its 40 seats and West Bengal 19 out of its 42 seats. The poll-completed states, mostly on a single day, would then be Karnataka (28 seats), Rajasthan (25) in mid-April, Tamil Nadu (39) on 24 April, and Gujarat (26), Punjab (13) and Telengana region of AP (17) on 30 April.

End of April would also mark the completion of voting in Maharashtra (48), Madhya Pradesh (29), Chhattisgarh (11), Odisha (21) and Jharkhand (14) and Assam (14). How the 438 constituencies would have voted would set poll pundits at work even before elections are fully completed. If pollsters find things may not have gone according to their prophesy, they would still be hoping for some surprises on 16 May as results flow and new possibilities may emerge in the post-poll scenario for the front-line contenders. The long-drawn-out cacophony – a mixture so far mainly of abuse, slander and vilification of opponents freely indulged in by leading politicians – would also be getting into higher pitch for the next three to four weeks, being the critical period left for politicians to try to sway voters to their sides.

However historic and theatrical as well the 2014 Lok Sabha elections – the world’s biggest show in democracy – and with a new party of ad hocism (AAP) daringly entering on a national scale, in the next few weeks, the country would  come up against unprecedented challenges for governance, whichever party or parties together come into power. Undoubtedly, the BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi must be credited for matching his greatest ambition with a frightening scale of efforts required to reach people at all levels, leaving out no corners of voter significance, to project himself as the Messiah that the country badly needs at this juncture.

Unfortunately, however, Modi, on whom great expectations were held for a sober, constructive leadership to provide alternative even outside his own party, had largely stuck to a single-point theme of running down political rivals in all ways possible short of providing clear ideas he may have, and how he would take on the economic and other major challenges that await a new government.

His party played with its manifesto, perhaps downgrading its importance in relation to its celebrated leader and nominee for the highest office, and when it was released on 7 April, with the commencement of polls, it failed to outline any action programme to revive the economy now trapped in low growth, high inflation, and fiscal stress. Its so-called reforms are in no way different from what the Congress-led UPA has tried to pursue ineffectively.

Nor Modi, if he has ideas, provided any credible blueprint of what he would try to do, say, in the first 100 days and for the term of office. Inflation, corruption and economic growth have been the major concerns for the vast mass of population, especially the middle class and urban voters. Indeed more depressing data have emerged with the fiscal year (2013-2014) ending with a resurgence of high inflation, both wholesale and retail, and continuing slump in manufacturing.

But one area where the government and RBI had focused together was on stabilising the external imbalance and the current account deficit has been brought down to well below three per cent of GDP. RBI has also shored up the foreign exchange reserves which have now grown well above 300 billion dollars. None of the gut issues of economy had engaged Modi in his long campaign, his sole concern apparently limited to ensuring the defeat of the ruling Congress-led government.

For its part, the Congress had also failed to mount its counter-attack in good time to undo whatever damage Modi was doing to it. His refusal to clarify his role in the Gujarat riots of 2002 still haunts with large segments of voters, especially Muslims.  IPA
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