India’s General Elections are finally here. After what feels like two years of state contests that have been billed as “semi-finals” and incessant speculation about what the mood on the ground actually is, the Indian voter will soon get the chance to offer a definitive answer. Starting exactly a month from today, on April 11, Indian will begin voting in an election that will be held over seven phases and carry on until May 19.
The date to circle in red is May 23. That is when India will get the results to the 17th Lok Sabha elections. That is when we will know whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party are getting another five years in power, and where the country is headed.
But there are still 73 days between today and May 23. That’s more than two whole months of incessant campaign rallies, sloganeering, advertisements, WhatsApp forwards and primetime debates. To help you navigate the enormous amount of politicking and election content that will inevitably head your way, we at Scroll.in have put together the Election Fix.
This newsletter, which will turn up in your inbox three times a week, will aim to separate the signal from the noise and give you a handy round-up of everything you need to pay attention to the elections without developing an addiction to Twitter. We will read the newspapers, watch the TV debates and even pay attention to the election memes, so you don’t have to.
Every Sunday, Monday and Thursday until May 23, you can expect links to the most relevant and interesting reportage and op-eds, or a focus on a particular aspect of the elections that we want to take a close look at. We will also point you to the in-depth reportage and analysis that Scroll.in’s reporters and contributors will be putting together over the next two months.
If you’re reading this on the website and would like to see it in your inbox, you can subscribe here. Another way to easily access The Election Fix is to download the Scroll.in app. Of course, this is the point where I remind you that good journalism does not come cheap. If you would like to support Scroll.in’s award-winning reportage, do consider subscribing to Scroll+.
We would also like to hear directly from you. Tell us what you think is most important about the elections, whether there are great pieces that we missed or what Scroll.in should be covering. Email me at email@example.com with thoughts, suggestions, critiques or even just angry memes.
On to today’s analysis:
The Big Story: Red-letter days
In a long, rambly press conference that would have been much easier to conduct if the election schedule document had just been handed over to the media beforehand, the Election Commission of India on Sunday evening announced the dates of the 17th Lok Sabha elections. The polls will take place over seven phases, two fewer than the 2014 elections, and conclude with counting on May 23.
The full schedule is here. A few important things jumped out from the dates. All the southern states will have voted by the third phase, April 23. But West Bengal (42 seats), Madhya Pradesh (29 seats), Bihar (40 seats) and, crucially, Uttar Pradesh (80 seats) vote over several phases that carry on until the very last day of voting, May 19. This means that the famous “hawa”, the political chatter that suggests which way the wind is blowing, will continue to build until the very last date.
Parliamentary polls aren’t the only game in town however. The Election Commission also announced that Assembly elections to the states of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim will take place simultaneously. This is a far cry from the one-nation one-election idea that the BJP has been pitching. But in Andhra Pradesh and Odisha in particular, local elections will be as interesting as the national picture.
Tamil Nadu will also see bye-elections to 18 of the 21 Assembly seats that have been lying vacant for months now. Such a large number of Assembly seats up for grabs makes this a mini-state election, the first real test for both the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam since their iconic leaders, J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi, died.
Meanwhile, another state is in-focus because of elections that are not happening. The Election Commission said that, while Lok Sabha polls in Jammu and Kashmir will go ahead, because of limited availability of security forces, the state will not have simultaneous Assembly elections. Jammu and Kashmir has not had a government since June in 2018, when the BJP pulled out of its alliance with the People’s Democratic Party. Not holding elections now means the state will remain under President’s Rule until further notice, which has not gone down well in Jammu and Kashmir.
One other interesting takeaway from the Election Commission’s press conference: there will be a heightened focus on social media this time, with all digital political ads needing to be certified by the EC – just like print ads and hoardings are – and with the Model Code of Conduct, the rules that govern how political parties must behave ahead of the elections, applying even to the social sphere. Whether the Commission can actually police behaviour online might end up being a crucial storyline over the next few months. We’ll definitely be coming back to this point in future newsletters.
Ready Reckoner for the 2019 elections
In upcoming newsletters, we’ll give you the reported pieces and insightful analyses from around the web that we found most relevant for you to stay on top of what is happening in this election season. But for this first issue, we thought a short cheat-sheet to get you prepare for the 2019 polls might make more sense.
So here’s what you can read to prep for the coming two months of incessant politicking:
- The Modi Years: Scroll.in’s reporters looked at all the key policies, controversies and milestones of Narendra Modi’s five years in power, from the Jan Dhan Yojana to the Surgical Strikes. This series puts all the major moments of the last half-decade in one place so you can quickly catch up.
- To understand the present, you must look back. In 2014, Gilles Verniers and the YIF Electoral Data Unit put together everything you needed to know about the results of the 2014 Lok Sabha election results in 40 charts.
- State elections between 2014 and 2019 might offer some indication of what has happened in the interim. For many years after the big Modi victory in 2014, India’s map simply saw saffron covering larger and large swathes of territory, until December 2018 when the Congress managed to win three north Indian states. Will that have a bearing on the Lok Sabha elections?
- How India Votes: Rukmini S’ series takes a look at what the data tells us about Indian voters, from challenging conventional wisdom about whether ideology matters to a look at how the news media has played a role in the BJP’s success. The entire series is worth a read.
- Looking for Modi: In 2014, Supriya Sharma travelled by train from Assam to Jammu, telling fascinating stories about the upcoming elections along the way, in a series called “Window Seat”. Over the past year, Sharma has been returning to places where Modi campaigned in 2014, to see whether the promises he made at the time have turned into reality.
That is all for this very first edition of Scroll.in’s The Election Fix. From the next issue, on Thursday, we will have much more from around the web on what you should be paying attention to. Do write in to firstname.lastname@example.org with any feedback you may have, and sign-up here to subscribe.