Elections to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha will be held in seven phases between April 11 and May 19, and counting will be held on May 23, the Election Commission announced on Sunday.
The announcement came days after the Opposition accused the Election Commission of delaying the announcement in order to permit the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government to announce several welfare schemes before the model code of conduct came into operation. The dates of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections were announced on March 5 that year.
Riding high on the February 26 Indian Air Force strikes in Balakot, Pakistan, which India said had struck the Jaish-e-Mohammed’s biggest training camp and killed a large number of terrorists, the Narendra Modi government is hoping to be elected to a second term at the Centre.
The Opposition, however, is expecting widespread agrarian distress combined with rising unemployment, crises in small businesses and anti-incumbency to prevent this from happening.
Both the national parties – the BJP and Congress – have been trying to stitch up alliances in states where they do not have a strong presence. These alliances will most likely be crucial for either party to reach the halfway mark of 272 in the 543-member House.
With the first phase of voting exactly a month away, how are the two parties faring?
The BJP has finalised deals in several states and has begun an aggressive campaign. The Congress, however, has been unable to iron out differences with smaller parties, which has led to a delay in announcing alliances.
At the moment, therefore, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is looking like a far more cohesive unit as compared to the Opposition.
Here’s looking at the alliances in different states and how the alliance partners of the BJP and Congress performed in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
After being left out of the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in the politically significant state of Uttar Pradesh, which has 80 seats, the Congress decided to contest all seats on its own making it a triangular contest.
In 2014, the Congress won two seats with a vote share of 7.5% while the Samajwadi Party won seven seats after securing 22.2% of the total votes polled. The Bahujan Samaj Party failed to win any seats despite bagging 19.6% of the votes. The combined vote share of the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party from 2014 stood at 41.8%, which makes it a formidable combination if the two parties manage to transfer their votes to each other across the state. The Rashtriya Lok Dal is also part of this alliance, which could bring it the votes of the Jat community.
Uttar Pradesh is the only state where BJP has not been able to finalise the contours of its alliance as its partners from 2014 – Apna Dal (Sonelal) and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party – are muscle-flexing. These parties are still holding negotiations with the BJP leadership and are reportedly also in talks with rival factions.
In 2014, the BJP won 71 of the state’s 80 seats while Apna Dal (S) won two seats.
News that former Samajwadi Party leader Shivpal Yadav is floating a new party that is likely to contest all seats may have an impact on the Samajwadi Party’s prospects. Political observers feel Shivpal Yadav could cause some damage to the Samajwadi Party in Yadav bastions and he is also likely to woo rebels who have been denied tickets to accommodate Bahujan Samaj Party candidates in the state.
With 48 Lok Sabha seats, Maharashtra accounts for the most number of constituencies after Uttar Pradesh.
The BJP announced a pre-poll alliance with the Shiv Sena on February 18. This came despite the Shiv Sena’s repeated swipes at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the past year. The BJP leadership evidently made the Shiv Sena an offer it could not refuse. The Shiv Sena will get to contest from 23 seats – five more than it did in 2014. It will also contest half the seats in the Assembly elections that are due later this year.
The Congress and Nationalist Congress Party, which announced their alliance before the BJP-Shiv Sena announcement, have not finalised their seat-sharing arrangement yet as they are still ironing out differences with their regional partners who are demanding a larger share of seats.
They are having trouble trying to accommodate the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi led by Prakash Ambedkar, who has formally announced an alliance with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen. If these two parties contest together, but on their own, they could hurt the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance.
Shetti has been keen on joining the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance too, but the parties have not been able to agree on the number of seats.
In 2014, the BJP had won 23 seats in the state while its alliance partners won 19 seats: the Shiv Sena had 18 seats and Raju Shetti’s Swabhimani Paksha had one. The Nationalist Congress Party won four while the Congress was confined to just two seats.
Bihar, with 40 Lok Sabha constituencies, is one of the first states where the Bharatiya Janata Party finalised its alliance and also announced a seat-sharing arrangement. Its partners are the Janata Dal (United) and Lok Janshakti Party.
The Opposition has formed a grand alliance, which includes the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Congress, Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, Hindustani Awam Morcha, Left Parties, Vikassheel Insaan Party, among others. The addition of these regional parties to the Opposition fold gives it an edge over the National Democratic Alliance in areas where Other Backward Classes and Dalits outnumber the other castes.
The Rashtriya Lok Samata Party, Hindustani Awam Morcha and the Mukesh Sahni-led Vikassheel Insaan Party were all part of the National Democratic Alliance in 2014. However, differences with BJP leadership forced them to join the Opposition.
The final decision over the seat-sharing agreement between the Opposition parties is yet to be made, however, which has once again put a question mark on their resolve to take on Modi.
What works in the BJP’s favour is that the Janata Dal (United), which contested the 2014 elections separately after breaking ties with the saffron party in 2013, is back with the National Democratic Alliance. This takes the vote share of the three alliance partners to 52% as per the 2014 polls.
In the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won 22 seats. Its partners won nine seats – the Lok Janshakti Party had six and the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party got three. The Rashtriya Janata Dal won four seats, the Congress and Janata Dal (United) won two seats each, and the Nationalist Congress Party bagged one.
The BJP announced on March 9 that it had finalised a pre-poll alliance with the All Jharkhand Student’s Union in Jharkhand. While the BJP will contest from 13 seats, its alliance partner will contest from one.
The Opposition has also announced a pre-poll alliance but is yet to finalise the seat-sharing formula. Members of this alliance include the Congress, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) and Rashtriya Janata Dal. In 2014, the BJP swept the state, winning 12 seats, while the remaining two seats went to the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha.
The Congress-Jharkhand Mukti Morcha alliance is being considered a huge boost for the Congress, and the alliance could win eight of the state’s 14 seats, according to a C-Voter survey conducted in January. The Opposition’s tally could further increase considering former Chief Minister Babulal Marandi’s Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) has also joined the alliance.
The Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) had in June announced that they would contest the Lok Sabha polls together. But since then, they have not been able to come to a consensus on the seat-sharing arrangement. The two parties are already running a coalition government in the state, which has 28 Lok Sabha constituencies.
By contesting together, the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) will be hoping to improve their 2014 performance, when they contested separately. In that election, the Congress won nine seats and the Janata Dal (Secular) bagged two.
The BJP had won 17 seats in Karnataka in 2014. What could work for the BJP in 2019 are the inherent contradictions between the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) alliance.
For one, the two partners are traditional rivals in the Old Mysuru region. An alliance could lead to bitter factionalism within both parties in this region, which may not necessarily lead to the expected transfer of votes between the partners.
Experts also believe that the likelihood of Janata Dal (Secular) voters turning to the BJP does not bode well for the alliance partners.
National Capital Territory of Delhi
The Congress and Aam Aadmi Party have been blowing hot and cold over talks of an alliance in the National Capital. The two parties still seem to be working towards stitching an alliance despite the serious differences between them.
The BJP must be hoping that the alliance does not materialise as that is likely to give it an edge in Delhi’s seven constituencies, which the saffron party had swept in 2014.
In those elections, the BJP had a vote share of nearly 47%. The Aam Aadmi Party’s vote share stood at 32.9% while the Congress was relegated to third position with a vote share of 15.1%.
On paper, the 2014 vote share of the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party taken together exceeds the BJP’s vote share marginally.
The coastal state, with 20 seats, will witness a triangular contest between the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front, Congress-led United Democratic Front and the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Though the Left Democratic Front and United Democratic Front will contest the elections separately, they are expected to join the alliance led by Opposition parties after the results are announced. In 2014, out of the state’s 20 seats, the United Democratic Front won 12 seats and the Left Democratic Front bagged the remaining eight seats.
Though the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance failed to open its account in Kerala in 2014, the party is hoping to make some inroads riding on the Sabarimala agitation that was sparked by the Supreme Court’s decision in September to allow women of menstruating age into the Sabarimala shrine.
The BJP is eyeing the Thiruvananthapuram, Thrissur and Pathanamthitta Lok Sabha seats. It is likely to field former state unit chief Kummanam Rajasekharan from Thiruvananthapuram against sitting MP Shashi Tharoor of the Congress, according to reports. Rajasekharan resigned from the post of Mizoram governor on Friday.
The saffron party may field K Surendran – a popular leader who was jailed during the Sabarimala protests – from Thrissur. It is likely to field BJP state unit chief PS Sreedharan Pillai from Pathanamthitta because of its proximity to the Sabarimala temple.
The BJP and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam announced their alliance for 39 seats in Tamil Nadu and one seat in Puducherry on February 19. The alliance also comprises the Pattali Makkal Katchi and possibly the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam. The ruling party has given the BJP five seats to contest from, and the Pattali Makkal Katchi seven.
In 2014, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam contested the election on its own and won 37 seats. The BJP and Pattali Makkal Katchi won one seat each.
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has, however, been in disarray since the death of party leader J Jayalalithaa in December 2016, with factionalism taking a toll on it. This is possibly why the ruling party chose to ally with the BJP this time. Desperate to gain a foothold in the region, the saffron party responded positively and has managed to strike a good deal.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the BJP will offset expected losses in the North with gains in the southern state.
As for the Opposition, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam broke its alliance with the Congress right before the 2014 elections, and formed the Democratic Progressive Alliance, which included parties like the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, Manithaneya Makkal Katchi, Indian Union Muslim League and Puthiya Tamizhagam.
But none of these parties won any seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has now stitched together an alliance with eight parties, including the Congress. As part of the seat-sharing arrangement, the Congress has been given nine seats in Tamil Nadu and one in Puducherry.
This is the first time the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam is facing the Lok Sabha elections with Stalin as its president. He took over the reins of the party after the death of his father, M Karunanidhi, in August 2018. The elections are being seen as a test of his leadership.
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