If the campaign by various parties does not get caustic, ultra-nationalistic and polarising during the first three phases, expect it to head that way April 23rd onwards.
The Election Commission of India’s (ECI’s) Model Code of Conduct has kicked in. Over the next 73 days, ECI will oversee the election strategies adopted by the parties, the conduct of candidates, and events on polling day. At the end of this, on May 23, the results to the Lok Sabha elections will usher in the next government.
About 900 million voters are expected to vote over seven phases. Fifteen states will have single-phase polling while in the remaining 14 polling will be held over multiple days. With seven phases, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal will see the longest polling cycle. The seven Union Territories will have polling on a single day.
If in 2009 it was a five-phase poll, in 2014 it went up to nine. This time, however, it has been reduced to seven. While many political parties have welcomed the announcement of the dates, some even calling it overdue as in 2014 the dates were announced on March 5, some political parties have taken exception to the schedule.
Post the announcement, a lot of focus has been given to the poll schedule in West Bengal. In 2014, polling in the state was stretched over five days (in the nine-phase schedule) but this time that has increased to seven (in a seven-phase schedule). This could be a reflection of the law and order situation in the state. The panchayat elections on May 14, 2018, saw many instances of violence across the state. To get a clearer picture of the lawlessness, consider this statistic: in the 2013 panchayat polls, repolling was ordered in 21 booths compared to 570 booths in 2018. This is a setback for the Mamata Banerjee government as it shows the ECI’s concerns over security during the polls.
What should be more upsetting for Banerjee and other opposition parties is that the seven-phase schedule would mean that for most of the time the Trinamool leader will be tied down to the state. This, in turn, could weaken the united opposition’s Grand Alliance.
The five-phase poll in Jammu & Kashmir is similar to how it was in 2014. However, questions have been raised as to why the state polls have not been announced. Security concerns could a reason, but by not holding the assembly polls along with the Lok Sabha polls, the ECI has punched holes in the government’s push for simultaneous elections.
It is interesting to note that though it is a seven-phase poll, by the third phase (April 23), more than half of India’s states and UTs would have gone to the polls. Polls in all the states in south India and the North-east would be done by then. This gives the political parties time to focus and recalibrate their campaign to suit it to the demands of the Hindi-belt and West Bengal. If the campaign by various parties does not get caustic, ultra-nationalistic and polarising during the first three phases, expect it to head that way April 23 onwards. Past elections in the Hindi heartland, as recent as the December 11 assembly polls, have shown how campaign turn disturbingly communal, and even personal.
The ECI has issued guidelines for the use of social media and Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora has said that any violation of the Model Code of Conduct will be “dealt with in the strictest manner.” However, with the code having no statutory backing, its power will have to be seen.For more Opinion pieces, click here.