A to Z of Lok Sabha Elections 2019

A to Z of Lok Sabha Elections 2019

Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI photo

The festival of democracy is on! 89.87 crore voters will decide who will rule India for the next five years. The BJP and its allies on one side and a scattered Opposition, which promises to join hands post-poll, on the other are vying for the trust of people. BJP wants a return to power while Opposition wants to oust it anyway.

A for Ayodhya and Amit Shah – One is silent but the other is heard very loud. It was expected that Ayodhya and Ram Temple would be a potent Hindutva weapon for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections but it is wrapped in silence this time. The manifesto has a paragraph but BJP leaders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to party chief Amit Shah choose not to talk about it. Maybe they think they have more lethal weapons too woo the voters! If Ayodhya is conspicuous by its absence, Shah is conspicuous by his omnipresence. Celebrated by party men as modern-day Chanakya, Shah is contesting the election from Gujarat's Gandhi Nagar which was earlier represented by L K Advani. Many speculate to certainty that Shah will be Home Minister if Modi returns to power.

B for Balakot – Why wouldn't one chest thump about such an exercise when in the cusp of election? Natural, but many others, including veterans, believe roping in the military in an election campaign is not an idea to pursue. Air strike in Pakistan's Balakot after the deadly Pulwama terror strike is a major theme in the current election. BJP is using it to hilt with Modi saying Pakistan is now crying 'Modi ne maara, Modi ne maara (Modi hit us)'. Balakot is part of BJP's campaign apparatus that puts national security at a prime spot with BJP leaders going to the town with 'Modi ki Sena' chant. Some say it is turning Indian military to a private militia!

C for Curse – Sadhus and Sadhvis entering politics is nothing new. Maybe for the first time, candidates' 'curse' is entering the election lexicon. If BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj warned people that not voting for him could lead them to a curse, it was left to Sadhvi Pragya, an accused in a terror case and BJP candidate against Congress' Digvijay Singh, to shock further. She said her curse led to the killing of senior police officer Hemant Karkare during 26/11, a statement that immediately attracted strong reactions. Karkare had arrested and questioned her in the Malegaon blast case. Pragya's entry is seen as an aggressive Hindutva pitch by the BJP.

D for Deve Gowda – The former Prime Minister from Karnataka may be fighting his last election before retiring from active politics. This time, the stakes are high. He has left his pocket borough Hassan for one of his grandsons and is fighting from Tumkur. For his son H D Kumaraswamy, a better Congress-JD(S) performance is a need for survival of his government. Gowda has seen many political upheavals and he might have already read the tea leaves well!

E for Election Commission – The most sought after organisation this season, the EC has a tremendous job to finish. 543 seats, 89.87 crore voters, hundreds of candidates, check on poll violations, conducting polling and then the counting – the job is cut out. Adding to its worry is the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and trust deficit attached to it. Also, the EC has been under fire from the Opposition for its alleged kid's glove approach to petitions of campaign code violations by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At one point, the Supreme Court had to bluntly send a message prompting it to act on violations by certain leaders. If someone believes the EC has taken a hit, Chief Election Commission Sunil Arora have nothing much to complain!

F for Farmers – The ire of farmers had burnt many fingers. The Modi government has faced it and it believes that it has somehow managed to assuage their feelings. It was the farmers along with Dalits and students who started the fire – to build a narrative against the government in the middle of Modi's tenure. The agrarian crisis, the protests, the firing in Madhya Pradesh's Mandsaur, series of protests across the country and the massive Mumbai Long March by All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) set the farmers' agenda. Farmers are still unhappy though Modi government has announced a Rs 6,000 per annum financial assistance to small and marginal farmers and a hike in minimum support price. They believe it is a piecemeal solution.

G for Gadbhandan – The 'gadbhandan' or the coalition was the most elusive thing for the Opposition leaders, who believed coming together of parties would pool in anti-BJP votes and avoid division. They were sure to oust Modi and BJP, they need to join hands but at the end, it did not happen. They were not looking for a pan-India pre-poll alliance but state-level coalitions. But in many places it did not work the way they wanted. Congress was out of the SP-BSP-RLD Mahagadbandhan (Grand Alliance) in Uttar Pradesh while Congress and AAP could not agree on an alliance in Delhi, Haryana and Chandigarh. The alliances in Bihar or Maharashtra did not have CPI(M) and CPI. And as electioneering progressed, Opposition leaders targeted each other.

H for Hindutva – Hindutva remain a core issue for BJP in its campaign. If there is no Ram Temple theme in campaigns, the noises are loud on the pet themes like repeal of Article 370. Repeal of Article 35A, introduction of Citizenship Amendment Bill that excludes Muslims from neighbouring countries, Sabarimala and Triple Talaq Bill do find higher resonance in campaign speeches. Another theme is the extension of National Register of Citizens exercise across the country to throw out infiltrators or 'ghuspetia' as in Hindi. Opposition say Muslims are the target.

I for Internet – The internet is where the voter gets information as well as fake news too! In 2014, social media was a novelty and there was a buzz around it. There is not much buzz around internet and social media in electioneering but this time too, the fight is there on the social media and platforms like WhatsApp. Candidates and parties are using the internet to expand their footprint. With cheaper data, now supporters are using it to further their parties' interests.

J for Jobs – Where are the two crore jobs, which Modi promised every year, Opposition asks. BJP and Modi point to the government's several schemes like Mudra loans, which created job opportunities. However, the government has not released official data prepared by National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), triggering a backlash. Leaked reports suggest India's recent past witnessed the highest unemployment rate in 45 years. Opposition seeks to corner Modi saying selling 'pakoda' is not a job. However, it appears that the rhetoric on nationalism, national security and Hindutva have overtaken issues of joblessness and agrarian crisis in this election.

K for Kanhaiya and Kejriwal – Kanhaiya Kumar and Arvind Kejriwal symbolise do not mind taking opponents on. Kanhaiya's electoral foray in Bihar's Begusarai attracted national attention. Facing sedition charges for a protest in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Kanhaiya, the student face of protests against Modi, is pitted against BJP's Hindutva face Giriraj Singh. But the going is tough for Kanhaiya as the Grand Alliance has fielded a candidate against him. It is said RJD's Tejashwi Yadav did not want a young rival to emerge and challenge him in future. For Kejriwal, this election is a fight for survival. A loss in Delhi could mean he will face a bitter battle for Assembly elections early next year. He wanted an alliance with Congress but there was no forward movement as both sides stuck with their lines.

L for Lalu – 'Jab tak samosa mein rahega aalu, Bihar mein rahega Lalu', the RJD leader once said but this election season, Lalu Prasad is in jail and missed in campaigning. The one-liners, the most brutal political attack laced with jokes are missing. The master-politician's absence is felt in the Opposition campaign. He is the one in the Opposition camp who can gauge the electorate's mood like anything and strategise accordingly. It is to be seen how his son Tejashwi shapes up. Lalu as advisor to Tejashwi is better than any one, some one quipped as he noticed the way Tejashwi took some decisions.

M for Maya, Mamata and Modi – BSP chief Mayawati and her Trinamool Congress counterpart Mamata Banerjee are among the most politically troubling opponents of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Maya and Mamata may not say in public but are Prime Ministerial aspirants in case Modi falters. Maya stitched an alliance with her arch-rival in Uttar Pradesh giving BJP a run for the money. She does not mince word in targeting Congress and Rahul Gandhi too. Mamata calls Modi 'Expiry Babu' only to get a retort that she is 'Speed breaker Didi'. BJP is heavily banking on Modi's popularity despite anger among sections like farmers and workers. The BJP campaign is weaved around the projections of him being a “strong leader”.

N for NYAY and Nationalism – Congress stumped BJP with the promise of NYAY, an income guarantee scheme for the poor, but the saffron party is countering it with its rhetoric on nationalism. NYAY promises Rs 72,000 for every poor household and Congress believes it has a resonance among the voters. But the question is whether it is matching with the high pitch on nationalism by the BJP. BJP is trying to project the previous Congress regime as weak, which did not take action against Pakistan. The BJP nationalism pitch seeks to project itself as one which takes decisions on national security and national interest.

O for Odisha – Will Naveen Patnaik's grip on Odisha losen this time? Will his BJD retain power for another term? Will one see a generation change in BJD leadership? Will BJP manage good numbers in Lok Sabha and Assembly elections? An otherwise reclusive Naveen, son of veteran leader Biju Patnaik, is now seen in videos exercising, giving more than usual number of interviews. BJP is putting up a challenge but BJD leaders say, there is a huge gap between reality and perception.

P for Priyanka and Pakistan – If Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's formal entry into politics is among the biggest political stories of this election, Pakistan also makes headline as Modi and Shah have made it an issue. 'Ghar khuske maara' (entered the house and struck it) was the line which Modi first gave and was followed. One would be watching closely watching how Priyanka would be able to revive Congress in Uttar Pradesh where it ruled once. Fuelling speculation about her candidacy against Modi in Varanasi and final decision not to field her did dent Congress leadership's image. One thing is for sure, she is in for a long run.

Q for Queue – All eyes are on the queues in polling booths. So far, more than 60% of voters have exercised their franchise. Political parties as well as the Election Commission are glued on to the poll percentage. The variation in voting compared to previous polls can make or mar the prospects of candidates. Fingers crossed, they say.

R for Rahul and Raj Thackeray – Rahul Gandhi is not going to like this bracketing but both are ardent Modi-critics. As Congress president, Rahul has been leading from the front, bringing in 'josh' to the party campaign. He criss-crosses the country, try to build a narrative, get brickbats from fellow Opposition leaders as his party fails to stitch alliances in some states. His decision to fight against Left in Kerala's Wayanad was not well received but he sought to win some hearts back by saying he would not say a word against CPI(M). It is to his credit that he manages to weave a campaign around Rafale scam. He also stuck with his 'Chowkidar Chor Hai' campaign. This is one period where Rahul managed to shrug of the reluctant politician tag. On the other hand, right-wing Thackeray is a new entrant in anti-Modi brigade. A section of liberals are enthused but many are not, thanks to MNS brand of politics.

S for Sonia – One absence that is being felt is that of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi. She is contesting the elections but unlike the previous ones, she is not campaigning across the country. Her health is said to be one of the reasons for her absence. She may not be campaigning but is glued in and still taking calls on contentious matters, say Congress insiders.

T for TRS and TDP – The two Telugu parties will be the cynosure of all eyes in post poll Delhi. Which way K Chandrasekhar Rao-led TRS turn after polls depends on the numbers the BJP and Opposition coalitions garner. While TRS is said to be comfortably placed, for TDP, it is a do-or-die battle. If it loses Andhra Assembly and Lok Sabha seats to YSR Congress, its stock in national politics will decrease. N Chandrababu Naidu, the party chief, knows it well.

U for Uttar Pradesh – It is said that the route to Delhi is via UP. In 2014, 71 of the 80 seats in UP went to BJP, which was aided by a Modi wave. The saffron party lost a couple of bypolls later after SP and BSP came together. Early this year, SP and BSP formalised their alliance by sidestepping its rivalry. Congress is out of this alliance. The 'Mahagadbandhan' is giving a tough fight to BJP and all eyes are on how much BJP will lose in UP. A section of pollsters have given 40-50 seats to the alliance. That's bad news for BJP.

V for VVPAT – VVPAT or paper trail of votes cast in EVMs has entered into election lexicon this time as the Opposition has raised the decibel levels. Opposition wants counting of at least 50% of VVPAT slips amid their doubts about EVMs. The Supreme Court ordered that EVMs in five polling booths should be counted. Opposition is not satisfied and have now filed a review petition.

W for Wayanad – Wayanad in Kerala suddenly came into national prominence with Rahul Gandhi choosing it as his second seat apart from his traditional seat, Amethi. It irked the Left as well as other Opposition parties. They asked him, are you fighting the Left or BJP?

X for X-PM – Manmohan Singh might have lost Prime Ministership five years ago, he might be 86 years but still enjoys attention from his opponents. Modi keeps on talking about him and Congress leans on him when it comes to serious issues – Manmohan Singh remains relevant. A section in Congress even wanted him to contest from Amritsar but 'Doctor Saab', as he is called by others, said a stern no.

Y for (who else but) Yechury – For the united Oppositon, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury gives the intellectual weight. Though his party may be low on numbers, but it knows how to punch above its weight. When most of the Opposition remained almost silent, it was Yechury and his comrades who worked towards building a narrative against BJP government. Never a dogmatic, Yechury brought his party to shun its rigid anti-Congressism to take on the Hindutva brigade. This elections, numerically, his party may see its lowest representation in its history.

Z for Zero Assets – The festival of democracy is on and five phases of polling are over. One may talk about money and muscle power in elections. And, it is a reality. But there are 56 such candidates, till the fifth phase of elections, who have no assets at all, if one goes by the affidavits they submitted along with their nominations. They too believe in democracy and that's the beauty.