The Election Commission of India has, finally, declared the schedule for the 2019 Parliamentary elections and the Assembly elections in certain states. The delay in making the announcement, and the inexplicable phasing of the polling schedule has rightly raised some questions. Was the announcement delayed to enable the Prime Minister to finish his hurricane tour of inaugurating (and in some cases even re-inaugurating) projects? Has the polling schedule been devised to allow the PM to address the maximum rallies and the ruling party to deploy its cadres as effectively as possible?
The questions are certainly valid. For instance, polling has been extended in West Bengal from 5 phases in 2014 to 7 in 2019. If this extension is necessitated, as claimed by the BJP, because of the state’s history of widespread TMC-sponsored poll violence, why has polling in a state like Maharashtra, with no history of such poll violence, been extended to 4 phases? If Odisha has been extended to 4 phases because of the possibilities of Maoist violence, why are Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, which have a far greater incidence of such violence, restricted to a single phase? Why has polling in Madhya Pradesh been extended to 4 phases in the Lok Sabha elections while, just a few months ago, Assembly polls in the same state were held on one day? Why do the hill states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh go to polls in separate phases? Why are Lok Sabha polls being held in J&K but not Assembly polls? Why has polling in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab been pushed to later phases in May? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that these deviations from the norm have been designed to suit the ruling BJP’s priorities.
In 2014, a wave swept Narendra Modi and the BJP to power: a wave created in part by media channels building up Modi as a messiah of ‘development’, in part by calculated, controlled communal messaging in sensitive areas such as Western UP, and in part by strong anti-incumbency against the Congress and the UPA. 2019 is a very different election, and the BJP knows it. This time, the anger and resentment - at corruption, unemployment, farmers’ distress, economic devastation - are all directed squarely against the BJP in general and Modi in particular. While much of the media is still Modi’s propaganda machine, it’s having to work much harder for fast diminishing returns. The propaganda machine has grabbed Pulwama and Balakot with both hands in a desperate effort to silence all scrutiny and democratic questioning in the din of jingoism. But even this last-ditch effort is struggling to make an impact.
The propagandist TV channels are claiming that the latest opinion poll surveys show a decisive edge for the BJP and NDA post-Pulwama and post-Balakot. But a closer look reveals a very different reality. For instance, the the India TV-CNX poll actually shows a marginal drop of nine seats for the BJP since its last poll in December - indicating that the ruling BJP is struggling in spite of Pulwama and Balakot. The ABP News-CVoter opinion poll shows a significant rise in seats and vote share for the BJP since its last poll in January: but it shows only very marginal gains in most states, with the lion’s share of projected gains in seats restricted to Maharashtra, where the BJP has sewn up an alliance with the Shiv Sena. This indicates that it is the alliance that accounts for the improved showing in opinion polls, not Pulwama or Balakot.
The India Today poll shows 36% respondents citing unemployment as the main issue in the polls, while 22% cite farmers’ distress, and 23% cite terrorism. Clearly, even the media din, warmongering and hate-speech around Pulwama and Balakot have failed to dislodge unemployment, farmers’ distress and other bread-and-butter, life-and-death issues from the election agenda - issues on which the Modi Government is firmly in the dock.
As the 2019 elections draw nearer, it is crucial for India’s people to shun the media and social media propaganda noise, reject every attempt to stoke communal polarisation, and with calm determination keep their eyes firmly trained on the very issues and questions from which the ruling BJP wishes to distract attention.