Welcome to The Election Fix. Today, we look at the debates around the actions of the Election Commission, whether there is support for anti-elitist politics in India and why Prime Minister Narendra Modi was up until 3 am one night surfing the internet.
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The Big Story: Neutral umpire?
The Bharatiya Janata Party vs Congress vs other parties narrative isn’t the only song in town. Alongside it is another storyline that is as important. It generates headlines every day and poses equally relevant questions about the functioning of Indian democracy: what is the Election Commission up to?
First, remember that the Election Commission was one of the many institutions in which the current government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi was accused of meddling. We also acknowledged the fact that the digital sphere makes it almost impossible for the commission to keep a check on everything, though it was important for it to set an example in high-profile cases.
Finally, we asked two weeks ago whether the BJP and its supporters were wilfully crossing the line set down by the model code of conduct, guidelines meant to establish a level playing field for all parties. The steady stream of complaints that have come in suggests that the saffron party is operating under the presumption that it will not face repercussions for violations.
This might not be inaccurate. There have been serious questions raised about the conduct of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath, partisan remarks from NITI Aayog head Rajiv Kumar, the release of a digital show and movie about Modi at election-time, the launch of “NaMo TV”, a propaganda channel with no legal clearances, the use of investigation agencies against the Opposition and communal remarks from Modi himself.
In several of these cases, like those relating to Adityanath and Kumar, the commission actually ruled that the code had been violated, but only handed out reprimands to those responsible. In others, the body continues to “look into” the matter. Even in the most straightforward case, of Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh making clearly partisan remarks, nothing has actually happened yet.
Meanwhile, the Commission has been transferring officers, rejecting campaign material and seeking reports on the speeches of Opposition leaders. Some of the action has come in BJP-ruled states, but the bulk of it has been concentrated on those run by the Opposition.
This is a problem. It would be naive to think that the commission, or indeed any institution, is entirely autonomous and immune to pressure from the ruling party. Yet in this case the body hardly seems to be concerned about the fact that its lopsided actions might end up raising genuine doubts about the conduct of the elections themselves.
Things are only going to get more fractious with the first silent period, the 48-hour ban on campaigning ahead of actual polling, beginning Tuesday.
Is the Election Commission doing a good job? What more can be done? Write in to email@example.com
On Thursday, we wrote about the need to think about how the internet will affect our democracy. That same day, a team of Huffington Post reporters wrote about the Association of Billion Minds, Amit Shah’s personal election unit that brings up all of those complex questions and many other ones too, plus a pink teddy bear next to shotgun ammunition. Read the whole piece here.
Elections 2019 on Scroll.in
- Half the Vote: A new series has Scroll.in reporters, Aarefa Johari and Nayantara Narayanan, speaking to women, only women, about the elections. The first piece introduces you to a weaver in Telangana, and the second a businesswoman in Mumbai.
- The Silent Army: Another new series, from Shreya Roy Chowdhury and Mridula Chari, shows you the nuts and bolts of how Indian elections work. First, read about the five million men and women who run the entire thing, then meet election staff in Arunachal Pradesh, where they are picked by their ability to walk for days on end.
- Ground report: Shoaib Daniyal reports from West Bengal’s Malda district, where Congress feudalism is under challenge from Trinamool and BJP communalism.
- Ground report: Arunabh Saikia has a pair of reports from Assam, one looking at the opinions of linguistic minorities in the state and the other at voters in upper Assam, the heart of anti-Citizenship Amendment Bill protests. Both seem to favour Modi.
- Ground report: Akash Bisht finds that stray cows and unpaid sugarcane dues could hurt the BJP’s chances with farmers in Western Uttar Pradesh.
- Ground report: There has been a roadbuilding boom in Arunachal Pradesh. Will the connectivity help the BJP? Arunabh Saikia reports.
There’s much more, including an interview with the Left’s Sitaram Yechury, so read all of our election coverage here.
Our reporters are bringing you dispatches on the elections from across the country. Your support could help us go further and dig deeper. Subscribe to Scroll+ and help pay for quality journalism.
Policy & reportage
- Omkar Khandekar gets to spend some time with Parth Pawar, grandnephew of former Maharashtra Chief Minister Sharad Pawar, and then is asked to stay away, producing this interesting profile of the 29-year-old politician in the process for the Economic Times.
- Is there support for anti-elitist politics in India? Ashutosh Varshney and Srikrishna Ayyangar in the Indian Express look at the results of a new survey and find that there is, but it’s concentrated in certain parts of the country, like Uttar Pradesh.
- Tamil Nadu’s first election after the deaths of J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi present a number of different storylines, from what happens to the Dravidian parties to whether the BJP can make a dent, all of which Arun Janardhanan unpacks in this report for the Indian Express.
- If upper-castes are largely richer and lower castes largely poorer, why does India lack class politics instead of just caste politics? Roshan Kishore in the Hindustan Times says it is because the non-upper caste rich form a sizeable portion of the population (go see for the charts alone).
- Milan Vaishnav of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace compiles a series of analyses examining how the expansion of Hindu nationalism has altered Indian society, the economy and more.
- We’ll be digging into the latest CSDS-Lokniti survey soon, but read some analysis of it that’s already out finding concerns about the economy and a telling map of views about the current government.
- We’re not tracking day-to-day speeches on this newsletter, but rest assured the BJP and Modi continue to insist that anyone opposed to them are enemies, such as saying the Congress is only contesting elections to give leeway to terrorists. For daily political headlines, read Scroll.in’s Latest section.
- The Congress (“Ab hoga nyay”, now there will be justice) and the BJP (“Phir ek baar, Modi sarkar”, vote for Modi once more) officially announced their election slogans this week, with polling beginning on Thursday. The only difference? BJP had already been using its line for months now.
- Tamil Nadu is not like North India: “On my morning walks, I cannot utter a word in support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” concedes Seenivasan, a pro-BJP Coimbatore resident.”
- Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, in a bid to combat rumours that he is unwell, put out an exercise video, which you really should watch.
- The Hindustan Times finds that Modi is just like millennials: Up until 3 am surfing the web to see if anyone’s saying something about him.
Opinion & analysis
- BJP leader LK Advani, who wasn’t given a ticket, wrote a blogpost this week that seemed to criticise Modi approach of labeling anyone who criticises him as an enemy. Ruchir Joshi, in the Hindu, points out that Advani was himself the violent rabble rouser before he was overtaken by the current BJP leadership.
- With the Congress proposing to bring back a version of the Planning Commission, Yamini Aiyar in the Hindustan Times points out how the current government and the NITI Aayog, far from decentralising, ended up concentrating even more power in the Centre.
- Swapan Dasgupta in the Telegraph says Rahul Gandhi is carrying out a “profound social makeover of the Congress” by bringing in mostly dynastic leaders with “a feudal sense of inheritance… a more rarefied and privileged upbringing and a very fierce sense of entitlement”.
- The distinctiveness of the Congress manifesto, writes Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express, is not in the economics but in “its refusal to play the populist card… In a context where nationalism is defined by how much power you can concentrate, the promise to disperse power across institutions is important”.
- Sevanti Ninan in the Telegraph takes a look at a very specific point in the manifestos of the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist): What they would like to do about the Indian media? (TL;DR: Both want to end monopolies, but will the end up curbing freedom also? Plus what about Doordarshan?)