Low Voter Turnout Helps BJP

Low Voter Turnout & Social Media Chatter Help the BJP More than Others

Months before India’s ongoing parliamentary elections began on 19 April, the nearly unanimous perception was that a third term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi was assured; and that the only matter in question was how many of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies who make up the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would end up winning–would it be more than the 353 that it won in 2019 or would it be less.

Modi and his party proclaimed that they would aim to get more than 400 seats, an ambitious target that represents nearly 75% of the seats in Lok Sabha.

Yet, after the second phase of elections were held on 26 April, the mood began to change. India’s elections are notoriously tricky to predict because of the vast and diverse population. The nearly billion voters who are eligible to vote are so culturally, socio-economically, and ideologically diverse that it is like an agglomeration of several countries trying to democratically elect a government that would rule over them all.

Who Benefits from Low Voter Turnout?

Still, when reports showed that in the first two phases of the seven phases of voting, the turnout of eligible voters was lower than it had been in the 2019 elections, hopes soared among supporters of the Opposition and Modi’s critics. Probably, erroneously so. Official figures released by the Election Commission say that in the first phase 66.14% of voters turned up to vote (compared to 69.29% in 2019); and in the second phase, the turnout was 66.71% (compared to 69.43%). In the third and fourth phases, the turnout was a bit higher than in the first two.

Many detractors of the Modi regime read the dip in turnout as an indication of waning interest in voting for the BJP, and surmised that this could be the harbinger of good news for the INDI alliance, the NDA’s main rival and a political front made up of more than two dozen opposition parties. They could be wrong. Low turnout of voters actually helps the BJP more than any other electoral contender in India’s elections. Here’s why.

The BJP, unlike other Indian political parties such as the Congress, is a cadre-based organisation. Cadres are groups of people trained to carry out the goals of a political party and disseminate and enforce the official ideology. Such a system is most commonly prevalent in socialist or communist organisations where they are meant to spread loyalty and obedience to party rules and are responsible for mobilising citizens.

The BJP’s cadres are activated mostly during the elections. In the BJP’s well-oiled electoral machinery, cadres known as “Panna Pramukhs” play a crucial role during elections. The term Panna Pramukh translates to “page in-charge.” Here’s what it is: The concept of Panna Pramukhs was introduced by the former BJP president and current Union home minister Amit Shah, who is also Modi’s closest confidant, during the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections in Uttar Pradesh. The idea was to focus on a micro-level approach by assigning one person to each page of the local voter list.

Each Panna Pramukh is responsible for maintaining regular contact with voters whose names appear on a specific page (usually three to five families). In the run-up to the elections, Panna Pramukhs encourage voters to avail of the government’s welfare measures and help them in that effort and their duty extends until the election day when they try and ensure that the voters they are responsible for turn up and cast their votes. Panna Pramukhs are the party’s first point of contact with voters to ensure personalised communication and engagement.

Voter turnout can be low for a number of reasons: for instance, when the weather is oppressively hot and people don’t want to go out and vote; or, when there is a perception, as is likely in the ongoing elections, that there is no real contest and, therefore, an individual’s vote could have little impact on the results; or when there is no big overarching issue that mobilises people. 

In 2019, for instance, the Lok Sabha elections took place shortly after the Pulwama attack, when a convoy of vehicles carrying Indian security personnel on the Jammu–Srinagar National Highway was ambushed by a vehicle-borne suicide bomber at Lethapora in the Pulwama district of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Forty Indian security personnel died. Analysts concluded that the incident could have spurred higher turnout of voters who were concerned about national security. As it happened, the BJP and its allies ended up with a massive victory in those elections.

This time there is no huge overriding incident such as the Pulwama attack although the widely publicised inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya could have an impact on which way some voters belonging to the majority Hindu community will lean. Yet, this election’s lower voter turnout is unlikely to impact the BJP as much as it can hit other parties because the former’s Panna Pramukhs will continue in their pro-active duties undeterred and, as a result, even if fewer voters turned up to vote, more of them would likely be voting for the BJP’s candidates rather than for their opponents. So, low voter turnout could help the BJP but not its opponents.

Who Benefits from Social Media Chatter?

In late April and early May, shortly after the first two phases of polling, there were perceptible changes in the electoral atmosphere. India’s elections are noisy, combative affairs where at public rallies, political leaders don’t pull their punches. Widely publicised video clips, distributed mainly on social media apps such as X, WhatsApp, and Facebook, showed both the BJP and its opponents getting into an aggressive mode. Modi’s speeches attacked the Congress, accusing it of following policies of redistributing wealth to appease infiltrators, construed to mean Muslims; opposition leaders, in turn, accused him and the BJP of stoking communal hatred towards minorities; and some of them, such as the Congress’ Rahul Gandhi publicly asked whether Modi was showing signs of being nervous of losing the elections.

On social media platforms, this changed perception was interpreted as a trend that the BJP and its allies were probably not faring as well as they had hoped they would. Armchair analysts proffered theories that said the ruling regime would find it hard to win a majority of seats and could fall far below what was earlier expected.

The fact is that although the numbers of Indians that use social media platforms such as X (24 million have accounts on that platform); WhatsApp (400 million); and YouTube (462 million users) are huge, there is no accurate analysis of who these users are and how much of the activity on these platforms has an influence on voting decisions.

Even so, it is the BJP that has been able to leverage social media platforms to distribute its messaging and campaigns better than any other Indian political party. Last week, the Pulitzer Center, a US-based nonprofit whose mission is “to empower a global community of journalists and media outlets to deepen engagement with critical underreported issues”, published a report titled “Inside the BJP’s WhatsApp Machine”, which analysed thousands of messages on WhatsApp to show how BJP uses the app to campaign in the closed environs of WhatsApp groups that are free from public scrutiny.

With the phenomenal growth of social media users in India, most major political parties have adopted these platforms as part of their campaign strategy during elections but none of them have been as efficient as the BJP. 

According to the Pulitzer Center report, “the scale of the BJP’s WhatsApp operations is incomparable to that of any other political party in the country”. The BJP’s WhatsApp network is vast and, according to one estimate, there are now at least a staggering five million WhatsApp groups operated by the BJP and these are capable of disseminating messages from Delhi to any part of the country within minutes.

Predicting India’s elections can be a mug’s game. In India’s past elections, number crunching psephologists and analysts have often got it wrong. Only when, in two weeks from now, all seven phases of voting are finally completed and the results come out, will we know how effective the BJP’s mighty election machine has been this time.

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‘I Am Thrilled to Become a Voice in the Grand Chorus of Democracy’

Kriti Bhargava, an undergraduate at FLAME University, Pune who is pursuing a major in Public Policy and a minor in Economics, offers a first-time voter’s perspective. Her views:

As a student of public policy with a minor in economics, I find myself at a crucial juncture in my civic journey – preparing to cast my first vote in the upcoming elections. This milestone not only marks my formal entry into the democratic process but also represents an opportunity to engage critically with the policies that shape our nation’s trajectory.

Voting for the first time is an exhilarating experience filled with a sense of pride and responsibility that comes with exercising one’s democratic right. I vividly recall the anticipation and excitement leading up to the day, a feeling heightened by the guidance and support of my father, who helped me navigate the process of getting my name included in the voter’s list. What struck me most was the noticeable change in the ease of application, a seamless transition facilitated by online registration without the hassle of bureaucratic hurdles or the spectre of corruption. It’s truly a surreal moment to realize that I am now a participant in shaping the future of my country through the power of my vote, and for that, I am grateful to the government for streamlining the electoral process and making it accessible to all without discrimination or favouritism.

Over the past decade, India has witnessed a multitude of policy reforms and initiatives under the leadership of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). As I prepare to exercise my democratic right, I cannot help but reflect on the impact of these policies on the socio-economic landscape of our country.

ALSO READ: ‘Even As A First Time I Can Recount NDA Achievements’

As a student, I am particularly appreciative of the significant strides made by the government in the realm of education and human capital development through initiatives which have helped foster innovation, entrepreneurship, and academic excellence, laying a strong foundation for the future of India’s youth.

One of the cornerstones of the NDA government’s educational reforms is the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which aims to overhaul the traditional approach to learning in India. By emphasizing critical thinking, creativity, and multidisciplinary studies, the NEP shifts the focus away from rote memorization towards experiential learning, empowering students to explore their interests and passions.

Complementing this, the Skill India Initiative, launched in 2015, underscores the importance of skill development in enhancing employability. Through programs like the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), millions of youth are equipped with industry-relevant skills, paving the way for a workforce that is not only job-ready but also capable of driving innovation and entrepreneurship in diverse sectors.

The government’s commitment to ensuring equal access to education is evident through initiatives like the National Scholarship Portal (NSP), which simplifies the process of availing scholarships and financial aid, thereby enabling deserving students to pursue their educational goals unhindered by financial constraints. Moreover, to foster innovation and entrepreneurship among students, initiatives like Atal Tinkering Labs (ATL) and Startup India provide platforms for students to unleash their creative potential and develop solutions to real-world challenges. Not only this, the National Digital Library (NDL) democratizes access to quality educational resources in digital format, empowering students and educators nationwide to pursue academic excellence.

The upcoming elections present an opportunity for me to engage critically with the policies and governance of the past decade under the NDA government. While acknowledging the positive strides made, I remain committed to scrutinizing the government’s performance across various fronts. As I prepare to cast my vote, I am motivated by a sense of responsibility and optimism for the future of our nation. With my ballot in hand, I am eager to contribute to shaping a better, more inclusive, and prosperous India for generations to come. Getting inked is not just about selecting a button, it is about making my voice heard in the grand chorus of democracy, and I am excited to play my part in this vibrant tapestry of civic engagement.

The narrator is serving as the Batch Captain UG2 in the Student Council and has also cleared the National Defence Academy Examination (NDA/NA-149) with AIR 332

As told to Deepa Gupta

How Indian Muslims Would Vote

Elections 2024: How Indian Muslims Would Vote

The election festival in India has started yet again and with the first phase of the mammoth exercise starting off on 19 April, the political pundits are wondering once again, how the Indian Muslims are going to vote.

If we analyse the election results of the last two general elections, then we realise that at the national level, in the past two national elections Indian Muslims at many places voted strategically, yet a party with just 35% of the vote emerged victorious.

However, it should not dishearten the Indian Muslims, they should take courage from the fact that they are standing along with the 65% of the Indian population, which stands for India’s secular credentials and values. Alas, this reality is not seen by the so-called Muslim parties, which often emerge as vote spoilers or dividers, by attracting a minuscule number of Muslims and giving an edge to anti-Muslim forces.

Data available at the Election Commission of India’s website from the Lok Sabha polls in 2019, shows that the ruling BJP won narrowly on 40 seats in the country.

Of its 303 tally, it won by less than 50,000 votes in as many 40 seats in 2019. This is usually considered a reversible margin.

This means that if the margins had been reversed, it would have taken its tally down to 263. Of these 40 narrow victories, 11 were versus the Congress party, and six against the Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party and Biju Janata Dal. Four were versus the Trinamool Congress, two versus the Rashtriya Lok Dal, and one each against the All India United Democratic Front, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Janata Dal (Secular) and an Independent.

Moreover, fourteen of these narrow seat victories were in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh. Machlishahar in U.P. has the dubious distinction of electing a BJP candidate by just 181 votes in the last elections. Overall, of its 303 seats, BJP won by less than one lakh votes on 77 seats.

In view of these facts, firstly, it should be the strategy of the secular political parties and particularly of the Muslim leaders to focus on these crucial seats and turn the tide against the anti-Muslim party. The irony is that even the parties, which were once relied upon as saviours of the Muslims like the Samajwadi and BSP, have also emerged as Muslims haters. In view of this the Muslims should vote strategically and vote for a lesser danger than the bigger danger.

Secondly, if we find our so-called leaders and parties lacking in these efforts, then the community’s intellectuals and experts, who are robustly active on various social media platforms, should persuade the Muslim voters to cast their vote positively on the D-day.

The mention of the importance of social media in today’s India, brings our attention to a recent report complied by Al Jazeera on the medium’s importance and how it is being used to spread mis- or dis-information and increasing Islamophobia among the electorate.

India has over 460 million YouTube users, making it the platform’s largest market, with four out of five Internet users in India consuming its content. Increasingly, more and more Indians are getting their news from YouTube, now a days.

The report says that most often these YouTube channels peddle mis- or dis-information in the garb of news. Some of these YouTube news channels increasingly offer a smattering of dis-information and Islamophobia, often cheerleading the ruling dispensation, while targeting its critics and opposition leaders. However, what makes these channels unique is that they claim to be ‘news’ channels, ostensibly claiming to present fact-based reportage.

These channels, though lesser known than mainstream news channels, have millions of viewers, giving them an outsized role in how the world’s largest democracy is consuming news as India prepares for its national election. Most of these channels have followers running into millions, with over billion views, a staggering and fearsome figure indeed.

With such a wide reach, concerns abound on how such ‘news’ outlets might shape perceptions and opinions, especially during the election season.

Studies have shown that Indians place greater trust in news they view on YouTube and WhatsApp, over news delivered by mainstream media outlets. Already, the World Economic Forum’s 2024 Global Risk Report has concluded that the most severe risk India faces is the fallout from the spread of false information.

The Al Jazeera report further quotes a study done by Narrative Research Lab, a New Delhi-based data lab that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to track print media and social media content, NRL analysed the content across six channels – NMF, Rajdharma, Headlines India, Shining India, Capital TV and O News Hindi – and found that on all these channels, coverage of India’s opposition parties was muted and its leaders were rendered almost invisible. In contrast, PM Modi and the BJP loomed large, their coverage almost always glowing.

The lab analysed 2,747 videos published by these channels between December 22, 2023, and March 22, 2024. In their findings, the lab found that across all the channels, some of the most frequently used words in the titles were “Modi”, “BJP” and “Yogi”, while mentions of opposition parties and leaders were used scarcely.

A “sentiment analysis” by the lab found that while “Modi” was used commonly across videos that had both negative and positive sentiments, references to India’s opposition figures like Gandhi mostly emerged in negative phrases.

Routinely, these channels amplify Islamophobic sentiments and use anti-Muslim tropes. The Narrative Research Lab analysis also found that there was a spike in the number of videos these channels produced on events like the day the contentious Citizenship Amendment Act rules were announced on March 11.

Another issue, which haunts the journalists in this election season, is the extra vigil and precaution, which they have to exercise while covering the elections. Based on their past experiences, the journalist in a survey carried out by the US-based, CPJ – The Committee to Protect Journalists, which promotes press freedom worldwide, and defends the right of journalists to report the news safely and without fear of reprisal, said they were concerned about political violence, criminalisation of journalism, attacks by other journalists and online censorship, while covering the elections.

Overall, these elections are crucial not just in face of the daunting task carried by journalists as listed above, but are also important for the minority community to vote strategically, unitedly, unwaveringly and certainly by ensuring their presence at the polling booths on the D-day, to ensure the safety of minorities in the country, besides safeguarding the country’s constitutional and secular values,

Otherwise the foreboding messages, which currently abound on WhatsApp university may turn into a frightening reality.

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior political and international affairs commentator)

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BJP Will Get Record Seats From South

BJP Will Spring A Surprise With Record Seats, Especially From South

Rakesh Tripathi, spokesperson of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), claims that the party will easily achieve its target of 400-plus seats with astonishing results from southern states. His Views:

In the last elections (2019), the BJP in Uttar Pradesh won 64 seats (as against 71 in 2014) despite the Samajwadi Party and BSP coming together. This time, we are not only going to achieve better results than 2014, thanks to our additional efforts and Modi-Yogi magic. Likewise, we are not only going to sustain our strength in the states where we have a dominant presence, like Rajasthan, Haryana, MP, Uttarakhand etc., we shall improve in states like West Bengal, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana etc.

Thanks to the tedious efforts of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and our motto of delivering what we promise, our results in the southern states like Tamil Nadu and Kerala will surprise our detractors. In this context, I would like to point out the commitment and the ‘thirst’ with which, for example, our Tamil Nadu state president K Annamalai is working 24×7. Besides being young and vibrant with the sole aim to serve the people and the country, he has been in politics for less than four years and he is already a youth icon, who has rattled the Dravidian ecosystem and established BJP as the primary anti-DMK force in the South.

Similarly, the chief minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sharma, is working effortlessly in the northeast along with others and BJP will definitely improve its figures in that region too.

The BJP delivers what it promises. Take for example, the abrogation of Article 370, the Ram Temple, triple talaq, NRC, etc. Whatever we promised in 2014 and 2019, most have been delivered and the others are in the pipeline. This time, our manifesto, which has been prepared after immense review, discussions and ideas (from grassroots level workers), has promises that we can deliver and we will deliver. Like our PM says, our vision is not 2029 but we have 2047 on our target when India will be a developed and a self-reliant country.

ALSO READ: Rahul Gandhi Is At The Last Chance Saloon

The promises made by other opposition parties in their manifesto are not more than a bunch of lies and claims which border on the weird. Take for example Rahul Gandhi’s promise of equal distribution of wealth among Indians. His `Khata khat, Khata Khat, Khata Khat idhar se udhar (from the bank accounts of the rich to the poor) is similar to his `Idhar se aloo, udhar se sona’ claim. Likewise, his wiser RJD counterpart, Tejashwi Yadav is promising Old Pension Scheme, Rs 1 lakh annually to women of poor households, discontinuing Agniveer, MSP on more crops, and other tall claims.

The Opposition is not able to find suitable candidates to contest elections against us in many states. It is evident from the ever-changing candidates and seats where no one is willing to contest. Take for example the revelations of ex-Congressman Prof Gaurav Vallabh who is now with BJP. He says that all Congressmen are advised/directed to target wealth creators and Sanatan Dharma.

A majority of Congress leaders and workers are not willing to contest elections and a stark example is that out of the 100 Congress Working Committee members, only three are contesting elections. Take for instance the seats of Rae Bareli and Amethi in Uttar Pradesh. Once the two seats were Congress pocket borough; today the party is still undecided who to field from the two constituencies.

As told to Rajat Rai

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NDA Has Put India on World Map

Even As A First-Time Voter, I Can See NDA Has Put India on World Map

Aditya Prakash Goel, a BCom Hons student from Sardhana, says he is excited about casting his vote for the first time and he would want NDA to return to power. His views:

This is my first experience as a voter and I am happy to be a part of the democratic exercise in this Lok Sabha elections. It feels like I am a citizen of a representative state and my vote can make a positive difference.

I believe the nation has not just changed under the current NDA rule but a new chapter of remarkable growth and fast paced development is also being written. India has showcased itself as a trend setter in the last few years. The nation has moved from the politics of hooliganism, corruption and appeasement to the politics of development, growth, unity and nationalism.

This remarkable journey has strengthened democracy in its real sense by empowering the marginalised sections of the society – from the unprivileged to underprivileged, the women and the youth. It also has been a journey of changing the Indian thought process from nothing is impossible in this country to everything is possible if the government and the people have the will and commitment to bring about a change.

The NDA rule has emphasised the motto of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas Sabka Vishwas.

Various initiatives have been taken up by the government in the last few years that have contributed to the development of the country showcasing it globally. Some of the initiatives that show the country has progressed and stepped towards change are:

The power of JAM, Jan Dhan Yojna, Aadhar and Mobile. This trinity aims at maximizing the value of every rupee spent, empower the poor, increase technology penetration among the masses, and implement direct subsidy transfers to the poor. The government intends to use these three modes of identification to revolutionize financial inclusion in India.

The digital India initiative aims at transforming the country into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy, bridging the gap between the urban and the rural areas. The government has truly made tremendous efforts in the making of digital India making transactions cashless.

ALSO READ: ‘India Has Progressed But Suppression of Dissent Worrisome’

Make in India initiative has given a rapid boost to manufacturing. It facilitates investment, fosters innovations, enhances skill development and builds the best manufacturing infrastructures. It is an effort to boost the country’s entrepreneurial energy.

The skill India mission has been initiated to create convergence across sectors and states in terms of skill training activities and promoting handwork and cultural background of the country.

Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana is a rural development programme focusing on development in villages which includes social and cultural development and motivating people towards social mobilization of the village community.

Then there is Namami Gange to arrest the pollution of the Ganga, Pradhanmantri Ujjwala Yojana providing smoke free kitchens by providing LPG connectivity to the beneficiaries, 35 crore Jandhan accounts have been opened as part of Pradhanmantri Jandhan Yojana, nearly 18,000 villages have been electrified and schemes like PM Kisan Samman Nidhi to boost agriculture.

The government has sought to create infrastructure in terms of roads and railways through highways and trains and schemes like UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik) have sought to boost connectivity.

During the pandemic, the country emerged as one of the largest vaccine producing hub on the global scenario. In the last few years India has emerged as a significant economic and geo political power on the world map.

As told to Deepa Gupta

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Political Violence in Bengal Elections is Disheartening

Use of Political Violence in Bengal Elections is Disheartening

Ramit Chattopadhyay, a Geography Honours student in St. Xavier’s College, Burdwan, says the continuing degradation of our independent institutions is a legitimate concern. His views:

Mainstream politics in West Bengal is inherently secular. With a demographic character as varied as West Bengal’s, there is no other way to win the hearts of Bengalis other than by adhering to secularism. The state has been an age-old hub of liberalism and progressive ideas, and the contemporary era is no different. Therefore, undoubtedly, my firm belief is that the polity in the state will stick to a secular ethos in the 2024 parliamentary elections.

As a student, and an avid follower and observer of politics, I am a little disappointed by the repeated use of violence as a political tool in Bengal’s elections. The very fact that hundreds of companies of central security forces have been deputed in the state for the 2024 general elections does not portray a good image about the state’s political scenario. However, I am hopeful about Bengal’s future. With proper and democratic participation of all stakeholders, politics here can once again regain an aura of fairness and harmony.

ALSO READ: ‘India has Progressed but Suppression of Dissent Worries Me’

Indeed, I don’t feel that 2024 is a battle between a secular democratic, and a quasi-dictatorial front. In India, it’s very difficult to ignore any section of the electorate. No government can cater exclusively to the needs of any one select community, or interest group, while ignoring the others. As for dictatorial tendencies, I feel that the continuing degradation of the country’s independent institutions is a legitimate concern. There is a need to have proper checks and balances that prevents any government from meddling into the affairs of independent institutions.

Ramit feels the seven-phase spreadout in Bengal election is justified

About the seven-phase parliamentary election in Bengal, to many it may seem like an unnecessarily long process. However, given the massive size of the Bengali electorate, and past reputation of violence in elections here, the seven-phase polling is quite justified, in order to properly manage a free and fair election. That being said, necessary steps should also be taken by the election conducting authorities, the Election Commission especially, to have Heat Action Plans (HAPs), so that voters do not have to suffer the brunt of India’s unforgiving summer heat.

As told to Amit Sengupta

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Rahul bjp

Rahul Gandhi Is At The Last Chance Saloon And It’s Not Looking Good

The Economist, the British publication that is often described as a weekly newspaper published in a printed magazine format, appears to have a soft spot for Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Indian National Congress and the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that runs that political party. A few days before the first phase of India’s gargantuan parliamentary elections was held, the publication joined Gandhi on his campaign trail and ran a piece that tacitly implied that Gandhi, 53, who holds no official position in his party, had got his mojo back.

The piece did list the main challenges that the Congress faces: the lack of an ideological alternative to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dominant and seemingly unstoppable Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) whose amalgam of Hindutva and economic development has proved to be a successful electoral recipe; the lack of organisational discipline in the Congress; and Gandhi’s own lack of experience–he has never run a state nor a central ministry.

Yet the Economist’s piece on Gandhi was hopeful–a contrarian view from what many others think of him–and concluded that if the Congress had to reverse its decline, Gandhi would have to step up or step aside. 

Gandhi actually has had more chances than any political leader is usually lucky to get. He has led the party’s defeat in two parliamentary elections, in 2014 and 2019; he has seen the number of seats that his party along with its allies have won plummet to just 52 out of 543; and has seen it lose several state elections–the Congress now rules in just three out of India’s 28 states. 

Yet, it is a silly season that is underway in Indian politics–six more phases of elections will be held and no exit polls will be allowed till the last vote is cast on June 1–and all manner of speculation, some of it nonsensical, abounds. A few days before the first phase of elections was held, the prominent Congress leader, Jairam Ramesh, 70, commenting on a quote of Prime Minister Modi, posted on X: “A pathological liar who plumbs new depths of lies every day. Just two more months, though, of this man as PM.” 

The Congress and its supporters have been circulating various prophecies, including a now-deleted opinion poll that suggests the Congress-led big-tent alliance of 41 opposition pirates would get more seats than the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. On their part, Modi and the NDA have made no bones of their expectation that they would win 400 seats or more in the ongoing elections, which, if it happens, would mean a massive 74% majority.

The BJP’s confidence shows. When the first phase of elections ended last Friday evening, Modi, who with 97.3 million followers is the 7th most popular on X (former US President Barack Obama is the only politician who has more, while another ex-Prez Donald Trump has less), posted: “Getting EXCELLENT feedback from today’s voting. It’s clear that people across India are voting for NDA in record numbers.”

Everyone, including the media in India, political commentators, and international media publications (who are more critical of Modi and his regime than their Indian counterparts), has by and large concluded  that a third term for Modi as Prime Minister and a huge mandate for his party and its allies is all but assured and that the only matter of interest is how many seats they get when the results are declared on June 4–more than the 346 that they now have or less. 

Gandhi And His Team’s Third Test

Let us assume that the prevalent view that Modi will be reelected as Prime Minister for the third time comes true. What about the Congress? After his party’s dismal showing in 2014 and 2019, this year’s election is a crucial test for Gandhi. The Congress could end up with either more seats than the paltry 52 that it currently has in Parliament, or less. What would those scenarios mean for the scion of a party that was once the dominant political organisation in India and one that has its roots in the first nationalist movement to emerge in the British Empire. The Congress was formed in 1885, which makes it 139 years old. For 48 years, or nearly half a century after Independence in 1947, the party has helmed India’s government and for many years it also ruled in most of India’s states.

But its decline has been swift and shocking. In 2014, the Modi-led NDA first dealt it a blow (the Congress that year won just 44 seats); in 2019, it was a repeat. If 2014 was a wake-up call, 2019, was a plaintive cry for survival. 

Yet, on the face of it, the party’s leadership did little. Yes, Gandhi himself sort of took the blame for the electoral debacle, resigning as party president in 2019,  and refusing to remain in any official position in the party. His mother, Sonia Gandhi, widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, continued as interim president of the party before a veteran leader, Mallikarjun Kharge, who is 81, was appointed as president in 2022. 

Publicly Congress leaders would like to describe Kharge’s appointment as a demonstration of non-dynastic meritocracy in the Congress but, in private, they scoff as loudly as Congress’s rivals. For everyone knows that it is still one family, the Nehru-Gandhis, which continues to call the shots in the party. In other words, it is Gandhi, his mother who is 77 and in indifferent health, and his sister, Priyanka, 52, who is a general secretary of the party, who control everything in the party. Every other leader in the party has to be subservient to the family. Or else they have to leave.

Many have. In significant droves. Since 2014, several promising Congress leaders, some of them young, enthusiastic and credited with the potential to turnaround the fortunes of the party have ditched it. Their reasons for leaving are simple: the way the party is controlled by the family. Many of them have joined the BJP, which has become a kind of equal-opportunity recruiter of political talent from across the spectrum of opposition parties. If an opposition politician has the heft to get votes, the BJP’s doors are open for him or her.

The situation is so grave for Congress that besides some old-timers, many of whom are at the terminal stages of their political careers, there are few who remain that can revive the party. When the results of the ongoing elections come out in June, for Gandhi and his family it could be the last chance to do something about an organisation that is sliding in a spectacular political avalanche. Or, would it be too late?

Stepping Aside Could Be the Only Option

A third electoral debacle would be severely humiliating for Gandhi but catastrophic for his party. He is the main challenger to Modi and seen as the real leader of his party–whether or not he has an official post in Congress is irrelevant. 

If, in the first scenario, the Congress ends up with, say, 50-100 seats this time, what should Gandhi do? A charitable suggestion is that he should step aside from all party work and, although it depends on his personal choice, probably from politics altogether. Indians looking at Gandhi’s track record would have had enough of him and even those who support his party would probably not want him around anymore. If he or his party would like him to continue even after another electoral drubbing, he would be a parodistic personality inviting rebuke rather than respect. Not an image that anyone would cherish for himself.

There is, of course, a second scenario. Let’s assume hypothetically that the opposition’s Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) flies in the face of prevailing public perception and wins the elections (caveat: I said “hypothetically”!). 

INDIA is made up of 41 parties but is chaired by the Congress president Kharge. Besides the Congress, the constituent parties in the alliance include smaller national parties, communist parties, and several regional parties from different states, including those representing minorities such as Muslims, discriminated castes, and tribals. 

It is a sort of hodge-podge of parties from across the ideological spectrum that lies outside the bounds of the BJP’s Hindutva plus development plank. Formed less than a year before the ongoing elections began, already some of the original member parties have left, notably Bihar’s Janata Dal (United) led by the original convenor of the alliance, Nitish Kumar, who left to ally with the BJP. 

Nevertheless, let’s assume the INDIA gets to form a government on the strength of a hypothetically higher number of seats than the NDA that it wins. Each of its constituents will wield varying degrees of power on account of the number of seats it wins and brings to the kitty. Some of them are strong in their home states and regions and can dictate terms in the formation of the government. How many of them are likely to agree to a Prime Minister from the Congress party? And even if they do, how many would vote in favour of Gandhi? 

As I said, it is the silly season now, a time when speculation abounds. So let me leave you with those two questions to speculate about, purely hypothetically.

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Modi Should Make Equality & Not Growth His Main Target

A crucial and key aspect of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) election campaign is the rallies that Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses across India. Modi, 73, is a powerful orator and he has a hectic itinerary, criss-crossing the country to address public rallies, sometimes as many as three or even four in a single day. The rallies are usually huge, with hundreds of thousands of people turning up to hear him deliver his speeches, which resonate regardless of one’s political views. In India’s current political scenario there isn’t anybody else whose public speeches can match up to Modi’s.

Last week, in Cooch Behar a northern district of West Bengal, which will go to the polls on April 19 in the first phase of India’s 44-day parliamentary elections, Modi, in his customary style of exhorting public responses (and sometimes referring to himself in the third person), asked the crowd four rhetorical questions: Should we or should we not make India the world’s third largest economic power? For that do we need a strong government or not? Does Modi provide a strong government or not? Will Modi provide a strong government in future or not? 

The target of making India the world’s third largest economy (measured by GDP) is not only attainable but it may even be low-hanging fruit–not very difficult to pick. Economists and organisations like the World Economic Forum (WEF) believe India’s economy is on track to become the world’s third largest, possibly by the end of this decade. 

India is currently the world’s fifth largest economy with a GDP of around $3.7 trillion. The US and China hold the top two spots, followed by Japan and Germany. 

India’s economic growth rate is expected to be around 6.7% on average over the next seven years, which is higher than most other major economies. This growth is fueled by factors like a large young population, increasing digital adoption, government reforms, growth in domestic consumption, and investment in infrastructure.

Several financial institutions believe India can achieve its target of becoming the third biggest economy within the next 3-7 years by maintaining a growth rate of around 7-8% This would require surpassing the growth rates of Germany and Japan, and staying competitive with China’s projected growth.

According to S&P, the American credit rating agency, India could achieve this goal by 2030, or, just after the end of term of the next Parliament. Others, including Modi, believe it could happen even earlier. 

Shocking Inequality is Widening

Becoming the third-largest economic power would undoubtedly be a moment of pride for all Indians. Yet, the more important challenge–and one that no one, including Modi, likes talking about–is the deplorable level of economic inequality in India. While India’s policymakers and politicians have professed to make growth inclusive and ensure that the benefits of economic progress reach all segments of society, it has not happened. 

In his speech at Cooch Behar last week, Modi claimed that in the past 10 years, his government had pulled 250 million Indians out of poverty. It is true that during his regime, which began in 2014, India has witnessed a significant decline in multidimensional poverty from 29.17% in 2013-14 to 11.28% in 2022-23. This represents a reduction of 17.89 percentage points. Multidimensional poverty indices break down poverty levels in different areas of a country and among various sub-groups of people, and consider factors besides only income–like education, health, living standards, and other essential aspects of well-being.

Yet, as poverty declines, income inequality in India has widened. According to Oxfam India’s “Survival of the Richest: The India Supplement”, the top 1% in India owned more than 40.5% of total wealth in 2021, while the bottom 50% of the population (700 million people) has around 3% of total wealth. From the beginning of the Covid pandemic till November 2022,  billionaires in India have seen their wealth surge by 121%. That means by a staggering Rs 3608 crore per day in real terms (or Rs 2.5 crore a minute!). 

Take a few moments to digest those numbers and then consider this: The country still has the world’s highest number of poor at 228.9 million. On the flipside of that is the fact that, according to Forbes, the number of billionaires in India rose from 169 last year to 200 this year, making it the world’s third largest concentration of the ultra-rich. 

Additionally, the richest 10% in India collectively own 72.5% of the country’s wealth, further emphasising how acute inequality is in India and the fact that although India’s policymakers can feel proud about making it the world’s fastest growing economy, that pride is superficial. Modi’s avowed target of making India the third largest global economy means little really to the masses of people who gather to hear him speak at his election rallies.

Huge Challenge of Joblessness

According to Oxfam’s index, India ranks 147th out of 157 countries in terms of commitment to reducing inequality. India’s Gini index, which measures income distribution inequality, in 2021 was 35.7. The Gini index measures the extent to which the distribution of income or consumption among individuals or households within an economy deviates from a perfectly equal distribution. A Gini index of 0 represents perfect equality, while an index of 100 implies perfect inequality. 

In a way, India is trapped in the cycle of inequality. Economic disparities hinder India’s poorest from being socially mobile and to move up the ladder. Economic inequality intersects with caste, gender, and background disparities, thus making it even more difficult to break out of that cycle.

Concentration of wealth in the hands of a few can undermine social justice and cohesion and further perpetuate inequality. 

A classic textbook method of redistributing wealth is to tax incomes progressively. Yet, in India despite the concentration of wealth among a few, the number of people who pay taxes is abysmally low. Only 20.9 million people paid income tax in 2021-22. In the same year, there were 943.5 million adults among the population. Unless the income tax net is widened, meaningful redistribution of wealth will be impossible to achieve.

The biggest challenge that policymakers face is youth unemployment. According to data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) released this year, youth unemployment (20-34 age group) has been on the rise. In the October-December 2023 quarter, 44.49% of those in the age group of 20-24 were unemployed, while for the 25-29 age-group it was 14.33%, and for  the 30-34 age group it was 2.49%. Breakups of that data show that the problem is particularly acute in rural India where youth unemployment is at record levels. Remember too that the number of Indians that are 15-24 is estimated at 250 million, more than half the population of the European Union.

So when Prime Minister Modi exhorts crowds at his election rallies with slogans about making India one of the world’s most powerful economies, we might need to stop and wonder what power he is talking about.

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Badaun People Happy With Police Action

Badaun People Happy With Swift Police Action In Double Murder Case

Anshul Jain, a native of Badaun and a socio-political expert, says the timely action in the recent double murder case has strengthened the trust of electorate in UP Police and Yogi Govt. His views:

The entire Badaun district was in shock when two local barbers, Sajid and Javed, in the Baba colony area killed their neighbour’s two minor sons Ayush, and Ahaan on March 19. Though the police failed to give any concrete reason behind the heinous crime, all it has to say is that the accused Sajid, who was killed in an encounter, was mentally unstable.

Though the police nabbed Sajid and killed him in an encounter while he was trying to escape from police custody, his partner in crime, Javed was later arrested from Bareilly. The entire episode is shrouded in mystery as the assailant Javed has not been revealed much about the motive of the crime. A frustrated Vinod also tried to immolate himself in front of the SSP office on March 24 but the police had nothing much to add to its investigation.

Nevertheless, the issue has not acquired any political colours and by and large, Badaun voters feel that the action of police personnel was swift and the crime situation in the district as well in the state has been satisfactory. Meanwhile, higher officials of Uttar Pradesh police have denied a communal angle to the crime.

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Talking about the effect of the incident on the elections, it is hardly going to hamper the prospects of BJP that has its MP (Sanghmitra Maurya) representing the Lok Sabha seat. In 2019, Maurya secured nearly 47 per cent votes and won by a margin of about 20,000 votes defeating his nearest rival Dharmendra Yadav of SP. This time, the BJP has declared Durvijay Singh Shakya as its candidate and his chances are even better this time thanks to the image of Adityanath Yogi.

Badaun has about 20 lakh voters with 3.5 lakh Muslim, 3.5 lakh Yadavs, 4 lakh general category voters and about 2.5 lakh Shakya (OBC) voters. The main fight is between the BJP and the SP and if BSP files a Muslim candidate from the seat, it is going to dent SP and benefit BJP.

The Samajwadi Party has used the Badaun incident to attack the Yogi government for the deteriorating law and order situation in the state. However, according to locals of Badaun, who are shocked after the incident and are standing with the family, the chief minister has got his 2nd historic term in the state over his brilliant performance on the law and order front. Even in the current horrific incident, the mood of electorate is one of laudatory for the role of state police and state administration.

As told to Rajat Rai

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Election Manifesto Committee

LS Polls: Rajnath To Lead BJP’s Election Manifesto Committee

The Bharatiya Janata Party on Saturday announced the Election Manifesto Committee for the Lok Sabha elections 2024.

BJP president JP Nadda announced the 27-member committee which will be headed by defence minister and former BJP chief Rajnath Singh.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Union Minister Piyush Goyal will be convenor and co-convenors, respectively.

Arjun Munda, Bhupender Yadav, Arjun Ram Meghwal, Kiren Rijiju, Ashwini Vaishnaw, Dharmendra Pradhan, and Bhupender Patel are included as members in the committee.

Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma, Chhattisgarh CM Vishnu Deo Sai and Madhya Pradesh CM Mohan Yadav are also included in the list.

Along with them, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Vasundhara Raje, Smriti Irani, Jual Oram, Ravishankar Prasad, Sushil Modi, Keshav Prasad Maurya, Rajeev Chandrashekhar, Vinod Tawde, Radha Mohan Das Agarwal, Manjinder Singh Sirsa, OP Dhankar, Anil Antony and Tariq Mansoor are also there.

Meanwhile, Bharatiya Janata Party on Friday announced the candidates for the by-election to be held in the Gandey Assembly seat of Jharkhand and Bagidora Assembly seat in Rajasthan.

The party has fielded Dilip Kumar Verma from the Gandey Assembly, while Subhash Tamboliya has been given a ticket from the Bagidora Assembly in Rajasthan.

The bypoll will be held at Bagidora Assemby in Rajasthan on April 26, while the Gandey Assembly will undergo a bypoll on May 20.

Bypolls on 26 Assembly seats will also be held along with the Lok Sabha polls.

Meanwhile, Lok Sabha polls will be held in seven phases beginning April 19.

Nearly 96.8 crore people are eligible to cast their votes in the upcoming polls at over 12 lakh polling stations.

The election for 543 Lok Sabha seats will be held in seven phases starting April 19.

The counting of votes will take place on June 4.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) won 282 seats, while the Indian National Congress (INC) managed to get only 44 seats.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) won 303 seats, while the Indian National Congress (INC) managed to get only 52 seats. (ANI)

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