The month-long Lok Sabha elections 2019 saw some interesting twists and turns, even candidates and political parties left no stone unturned to woo the voters. Voters from across 29 states and seven federally-administered territories voted to elect 543 members to the lower house of parliament called the “Lok Sabha” or House of the People over the course of more than a month.
The party or coalition with a simple majority (273 seats) is invited to form a government. The MPs from the winning party or coalition elect their leader who then becomes the country’s prime minister. At least 2,354 political parties are registered with the Election Commission of India – an autonomous constitutional body – for the 17th House of the People elections. However, only around 500 of them are expected to field candidates. In the 2014 elections, 8,251 candidates from more than 460 political parties contested the elections.
Here are some key takeaways from the Lok Sabha elections 2019:
The fight: Candidates played a crucial role in the general elections. Individual candidates become redundant if an election is turned into a referendum on a leader — as in a presidential form of election. Voters cast their votes depending on what they feel about the leader without taking into account the credibility of the candidate who has been fielded.
A lot was at stake in these elections, which was a bitter fight between two broad camps: the ruling National Democratic Alliance — mostly Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party — and a plethora of Opposition parties, the largest of whom is Indian National Congress.
This year the saffron-clad politicians were seen contesting elections. Saffronisation is not a novel concept to Indians, and has, in fact, seeped into the national conscience. With the current ruling party at Centre, the BJP, having leaders like Yogi Adityanath or Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur, are many times seen promoting Hindu ideology.
But the elections saw the BJP and Congress jostling with each other over issues like Citizenship Amendment Bill, nationalism and NYAY scheme. While main issues for the BJP revolved around reviving Brand Modi and nationalism, the Congress focused on Citizenship Amendment Bill, unemployment and NYAY scheme. CPI(M), on the other hand, was seen to have mostly reduced to simply reacting against the BJP over communalism and their alleged ‘attacks on democracy’.
Merits or Dynasty: Electoral politics has been witness to a significant shift. This elections we saw redefined matrix on which election strategies are usually drawn up. India has a substantial number of political dynasties present at all levels – both local and national. Some of the much-noticed ones are the Nehru – Gandhi dynasty, the Scindia family, the Abdullah family, Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh, Karunanidhi family, etc.
Dynasts capturing the politics rules out the chances of better performing individuals to enter and do good for the state. It limits the choice of the voters. With no other options, even though the people want to topple over the dynasties, they are not able to do so. But this year as the millennials took charge of voting they proved that they don’t want dynastic politics anymore. Dynastic politicians, be it the Nehru-Gandhi family or those leading regional outfits, are facing a tough time.
India is at an electoral juncture. Over the 12 months between 2018 and 2019, the voter size in the country has swollen by a record-breaking number of 52.6 million. This increase is because of the post-Millennials—also called Centennials or Generation Z— the ones born at the dawn of the 21st century. They have come of age at a crucial time—seven states went to polls in 2018, while another six assembly elections, the 17th general election and several elections to local bodies are due in 2019. The wisdom and foresight of these 52.6 million first-time voters will play a major role in deciding whether India’s polity will be founded on peace, equity, and cultural diversity or on religion, casteism and fanaticism. Clearly, a great deal is at stake. Particularly at stake are the ideas of equality, justice, fraternity and freedom enshrined in the Constitution.
Ideology: Just how much does ideology matter in an election? On April 11, Amit Shah, the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, declared that if re-elected, “every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha [sic], Hindus and Sikhs”, would be removed. The timing of Shah’s message is not just about anti-Muslim bigotry. It is fundamentally about reshaping how Hinduism is imagined and practiced by over a billion people.
The BJP belongs to an umbrella organisation called the Sangh Parivar. The parivar consists of an array of political movements advocating Hindu nationalism, an ideology which constructs India as historically Hindu, posting a false historical equivalency between Indian and Hindu.
The vitriolic campaign over the last months has seen polarisation in terms of religion, caste, sections, communities and economic groups. A tweak in the narrative came after the February 14 terror strike in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama in which 40 soldiers were killed, and the air strikes at Pakistan’s Balakot that followed. Overnight, the BJP built its campaign around the theme of national security and nationalism, and only later, added development to it. The Congress, which kept its focus on the bread and butter issues – farm sector, jobs and economy – and the controversy over the government’s purchase of 36 Rafale jet fighters, was accused of neglecting the nation’s security and its armed forces.
Social Media: In earlier elections, technology was incidental and used by some people with other traditional means but that’s no longer the case now. In this Lok Sabha elections technology — whether it’s social media, analytics, strategy, in all of these areas, technology has now come to occupy centrestage. Social media have been used by political parties as both a tool of empowerment and oppression, but the latter has tended to trump the former.
Indian elections – the biggest democratic spectacle in the world with about 900 million eligible voters – are fertile ground for the explosion of social media. We saw it happen in 2014, and we are seeing it happen again – deeper and grander – in 2019. Facebook’s announcement earlier in the week that it had taken down hundreds of pages linked to the Congress and the BJP has cast the spotlight yet again on the onslaught of disinformation permeating what has become the primary battleground in the world’s largest general election. Major international news outlets have already dubbed this the WhatsApp election.
The rise in 4G connectivity, the explosion in smartphone ownership, and the expansion of internet access the country have made communicating with the electorate at an intimate level easier, but with it have also come the perils of such communication – fake news and unchecked propaganda. One post that went viral on social media had BJP head Amit Shah saying, “We agree that for election, we need a war.” That post, intended to showcase the BJP as a warmongering party, was seen by 2.5 million viewers and shared several thousand times before being taken down. It was proven to be a fake. Another post which went viral on WhatsApp intended to showcase the Congress as soft on