High-stake first phase

The campaigning dust has settled, and the stage is all set for the first phase of polling in 102 Lok Sabha seats in 21 States and Union Territories on Friday.
High-stake first phase

The campaigning dust has settled, and the stage is all set for the first phase of polling in 102 Lok Sabha seats in 21 States and Union Territories on Friday. Stakes have increased for both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress. The BJP contested 56 of these 102 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and won 42 seats. The ruling party is contesting 77 of these 102 seats this time. Overall, the BJP is aiming for a total of 370 seats on its own and 400 plus with its allies in the National Democratic Alliance as it seeks a third consecutive term. The Congress contested 63 of these 102 seats and won 15 seats in 2019. The grand old party is contesting 56 of these seats, and it desperately needs a big striking rate to increase its tally. The Congress contesting a smaller number of seats in the first phase this time is explained by its compulsion to share seats with its regional allies. The poor performance of the Congress party that ruled 54 of the 60 years of non-BJP rule at the Centre in 2014 and 2019 and the weakening of the organization reduced its negotiation capacity when it came to sharing seats with its allies in the I.N.D.I. Alliance. Of the 15 seats won by the Congress last time, nine came from Tamil Nadu because of its alliance with the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), and three from Assam. The largest block of seats in the first phase is in Tamil Nadu, as polling will be held in all 39 Lok Sabha seats in the first phase in one go. With the Prime Minister’s push for a breakthrough in the southern state, the high-pitched campaigning by the BJP and DMK-led ruling coalition attracted the maximum attention, and polling in the state will be keenly watched by pollsters to hazard a guess. Various opinion polls have given the BJP and NDA a clear edge, but for Tamil Nadu, the prediction of these pre-poll surveys is in favour of the I.N.D.I. Alliance, and that makes the first phase of polling a high-stakes battle not just for the two major national players but also for strong regional players like DMK. In 2019, the DMK won all 20 seats it contested, while three seats were won by one of its allies under its symbol. For the Congress, however, the real challenge is to win maximum seats in a direct fight with the BJP. In 2019, the Congress managed to win only 15 of the 186 seats in which it was locked in direct contest with the BJP. Of the 48 seats in the first phase, Congress candidates are in competition with BJP candidates and other parties. In the last Lok Sabha polls, the Congress and BJP candidates were ahead of others in the race in 37 seats; the BJP finished first with 31; and the Congress could win only six seats. The BJP is banking on the delivery of its promises of Ram Temple, abrogation of Article 370, and a host of beneficiary schemes, including free rice distribution, as it articulated its new promises as a Modi guarantee to convince electors about “better governance and delivery” by the BJP-led NDA government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for two consecutive terms. The Congress and the I.N.D.I. Alliance made electoral bonds, price rises, and unemployment key poll planks, hoping to strike a chord with the voters. The turnout in the first phase of polling will give some indication as to how far the ruling and opposition parties have succeeded in exciting the voters to take part in the democratic exercise with greater enthusiasm than in the past. Prime Minister Modi addressing election rallies in Assam and Tripura on the last day of campaigning for the first phase and Congress leader campaigning in Assam and Manipur a day earlier is reflective of the growing importance of the northeastern region as a block in parliamentary politics and in the number game. Of the 25 seats in the region, polling will be held in 15 seats, including five in Assam, in the first phase. The BJP and its allies won 19 of these seats last time, and the scope to increase the tally in a big way is limited. The experiment of the I.N.D.I. Alliance to put a single opposition candidate in as many seats as possible in a bid to defeat the BJP and its allies in the region will be put to the test. The poll issues, however, are uniform in the states of the region, even though issues raised during electioneering for the first phase in Assam reflected national poll pitches, primarily raised by the BJP and the Congress. A high turnout in the first phase will increase the enthusiasm of voters in the subsequent phases. The turnout of young voters will play a crucial role as both ruling and opposition parties articulate their campaign to woo them and hope that they will be their ‘X’ factor in swinging the mandate.

Top Headlines

No stories found.
Sentinel Assam