Elections for the 16th Lok Sabha start today
The month long democracy-fest starts today in India, the largest democracy in the world.
In the first of nine phases taking place today there are six of the 543 constituencies to the Lok Sabha being contested. Five constituencies of the fourteen in the north-eastern state of Assam (Tezpur, Kaliabor, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur) will go to the polls today and one of the two constituencies in Tripura (Tripura West).
Currently the Indian National Congress (INC) is the major party in Assam and the Communist Party of India – Marxist (CPI-M) rules in Tripura.
Around 6.4 million people will be voting in this first phase and there are 51 candidates standing in the Assam constituencies. In Tripura there are 1.2 million eligible voters and 13 candidates standing.
Voting in both states will be between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.
During the next month, polling finishes on 12th May and counting starts on 16th May, a staggering 814.5 million voters will go to the polls in nine phased elections. The peak of activity will be on 17th April when 121 constituencies are contested and 24th April when 117 seats will go to the polls.
The superbly organised Election Commission of India has had to arrange elections across the whole of India with Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) being organised in a staggering 930,000 polling stations. The main contest nationwide is between the ruling Indian National Congress (INC) and its United Progressive Alliance (UPA) allies and the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) allies.
In personality terms, BJPs Narendra Modi is taking on Congress’ Rahul Gandhi. The most recent opinion polls suggest that the NDA could get 38% of the vote which could secure them 234 to 246 seats. That would be a major victory if it were to happen; in 2009 the NDA won 159 seats. The latest polls put the UPA on 28% which would equate to about 111 to 123 seats; in 2009 the UPA won 262 seats.
In an interesting, and potentially significant development, Maulana Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Imam of India’s largest mosque, the Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi called on his supporters to vote for Congress. Muslims make up 13.4% of India’s population. Another factor which may not have been appreciated by the pollsters is the different tone of the two campaigns. Whilst the BJP talks about urbanisation, infrastructure development and sorting out government, Congress are talking about inclusive growth, more welfare schemes, the right to healthcare for all and increasing the spread of pensions. The Congress message is more in line with rural India and in 2004 they won when a BJP victory was expected, so don’t assume anything until an assessment can be made towards the end of the campaign.