The spread-out, seven-stage 2019 Lok Sabha Poll plan — which will see three states casting a ballot in all stages and upwards of four casting a ballot in four stages — has brought up issues about the requirement for such a structure, and whether the plan and mix of states and stages could really help the decision Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
As per the calendar, reported by the Election Commission of India Sunday, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Bihar will cast a ballot in every one of the seven stages. In the nine-stage 2014 Lok Sabha surveys, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar cast a ballot in six stages and West Bengal cast a ballot in five.
While this time Jammu and Kashmir will cast a ballot in five stages, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and Maharashtra will cast a ballot in four. In 2014, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra cast a ballot in three stages and Odisha in two.
The EC has credited numerous stages in a specific state to strategic and security concerns. Be that as it may, while the 2014 Lok Sabha survey was held in more stages, the selection of states going in for multi-stage surveying this time, the number of stages apportioned for them and the dates picked have persuaded “there is more than what meets the eye”.
The BJP trusts Prime Minister Narendra Modi is its trump card and might want to utilize him to the handle, guaranteeing he crusades in however many districts as could be expected under the circumstances, especially those where the BJP needs to upgrade its odds and augment gains.
In West Bengal and Odisha, for example, which have 42 and 21 Lok Sabha situates separately, the BJP has been endeavoring to make advances, seeking sufficiently after additions to adjust for potential misfortunes somewhere else.
In Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 individuals to the Lok Sabha and where the BJP won upwards of 71 situates in 2014, the gathering needs to design its methodology mindfully to probably counter the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party coalition, and limit its losses. However, a state like Tamil Nadu, which has 39 seats, and Andhra Pradesh, which has 25, will cast a ballot in only one stage.
The BJP additionally trusts Modi is prevalent in the heartland states just as in the west and is getting progressively so in states like West Bengal, Odisha and Assam, thus, might want to utilize him most in these.
In any case, in states like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh, among others, where the PM isn’t a vote-catcher, the BJP realizes it can’t do much.
“We cannot say for sure whether this will help the BJP, but there is a clear pattern. All states where BJP has no or very little stake — like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh etc — are going to vote in a single phase,” said Sanjay Kumar, director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
“The second category of states voting in one phase are those where BJP is confident and where it feels the fight is not tough, like Gujarat, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand,” he added.
“But states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Assam, Odisha and Jharkhand, which vote in multiple phases, are those where the party does have challenges, whether in the form of a strong opposition alliance or other factors.”
Suhas Palshikar, an academic and political scientist, added: “It looks like a regular schedule, since in 2014 as well, the polls were held in many phases. However, the difference is that even in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra etc., which do not require so many phases, a multi-phased poll has been scheduled.
“Hence, the usual argument that this has been done for logistical purposes or because of troop movement does not cut any ice. This, in fact, lends credence to the idea that there is more than what meets the eye.”
The number of phases in crucial states means there would be multiple times when one constituency is voting and a top leader’s rally is being conducted in a nearby seat that votes later. Given the BJP remains confident about PM Modi’s popularity, analysts believe this means the party can use his rallies to influence voting behaviour even if the campaign period in a particular constituency is over.
“Imagine this scenario, no rule prevents a senior leader from campaigning in a constituency that is not going to polls in that phase, even if it is neighbouring one that is. For instance, say in Bihar, wherein each phase 4-5 seats vote, if a top leader holds a big rally in a constituency which is not voting then but shares borders with one that is, it will obviously have an impact. Hence, given there are seven phases, this can happen as many as six times,” Kumar said.
Besides its top leaders, the BJP relies heavily on its well-oiled election machinery and cadre, and experts believe the schedule could help the party maximise on both these counts.
“It can help the BJP in two ways. One, it will enable its top leaders to spread out their rallies and campaigning. And two, this means the party can move its more capable and trusted cadre within a state,” said Palshikar.
The BJP has denied the charge that the poll schedule can help it in any form, and said this was “normal”.
“How will it help, in what form can it help? Some people are saying it might benefit us since Muslims have their Roza (fast during the month of Ramadan). But then Hindus have a fast every week on some day or the other. Even the nine-day Navratri, when Hindus fast, will also fall in this period. In fact, PM Modi also fasts then and survives only on water. He has to campaign across the country, imagine how he will do it,” said BJP national spokesperson Bizay Sonkar Shastri.
“This is a normal schedule. Last time also it was multi-phased and, in fact, had more phases but nobody said anything. These things are being spread by those worried about Modiji’s popularity and the government’s work.”
The Congress, meanwhile, is adopting a cautious approach.
“The Election Commission of India has to discharge its duty in a best-suited manner, and in a free and fair way, so no side gets an advantage. They know how to do their job well. We won’t cast any aspersions,” said Priyanka Chaturvedi, convenor of the Congress communications department and national spokesperson.