winner in doubt as India set for general electionst
M.R. Narayan Swamy
New Delhi, April 15 (IANS) Millions will start voting across
India beginning Thursday in staggered parliamentary elections
that is expected to lead to a verdict more splintered than
five years ago.
With no single issue dominating the five-phase elections that
ends May 13, political pundits say that a complex set of factors
involving states and individuals will determine who finishes
on top of a hung 545-member Lok Sabha, parliament's house
of the people.
About 143 million of India's 714 million voters - of a population
of 1.2 billion - will be eligible to exercise their franchise
in the first round of polling to pick MPs in 124 Lok Sabha
constituencies spread across 15 states and two union territories.
A total of 1,715 candidates are in the fray. Tens of thousands
of security personnel and Election Commission staff will oversee
the world's largest democratic exercise - the 15th since the
first general election in 1952.
Also Thursday, voters in parts of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh
will vote to elect a new state assembly.
By the time campaigning for the first phase ended Tuesday
evening, the desperation for votes had given way to acerbic
exchanges involving even the usually soft-spoken Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh as well as L.K. Advani, the prime ministerial
candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Two BJP candidates were also jailed for giving hate speeches
- one in Uttar Pradesh and the other in Orissa.
The battle for India involves the ruling Congress and its
allies in the fractured United Progressive Alliance (UPA),
the BJP and its depleted National Democratic Alliance (NDA)
and others ranging from the Communists to regional forces
big and small, each party determined to prove its might.
Everyone agrees for the first time that there will be no clear
winner, and that a hung parliament is bound to lead to fresh
realignment of players.
"This is one of the most bitterly contested elections
I can remember," a Congress strategist told IANS, adding
on the condition of anonymity that he doubted if his own party
could grab more than 150 seats.
Even if that were to happen, the tally would be about 120
short of a majority in the Lok Sabha necessary to stake claim
Unlike in 2004, when a stunning Congress victory over the
BJP influenced several parties including the Communists to
prop up the former, that may not happen this time - at least
Many Congress allies have branched away, weakening the alliance
it headed for the past five years.
The BJP hopes to take advantage of the cracks in the Congress
camp but it too has lost a key ally, Biju Janata Dal (BJD)
of Orissa. Its image as a votary of Hindutva could hit its
prospects of government formation unless it finishes as a
numerically dominant numero uno.
The Communists and its regional allies claim their "Third
Front" would play a crucial role post elections. And
three disgruntled Congress allies - Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD),
Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) and Samajwadi Party - have come
together for what is being dubbed the "Fourth Front",
though they insist they remain part of the ruling UPA.
Then there is the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Uttar Pradesh
Chief Minister Mayawati. It is contesting almost all the Lok
Sabha seats and it has the potential to throw up surprises.
Good governance and economic stability are the key issues
dominating the minds of voters, who range from the poor and
dispossessed of the far-flung villages and urban slums as
well as the middle class that is becoming increasingly assertive
and seeks from the elected a better quality of life and opportunities.
A political activist who has done extensive field surveys
said that contrary to what was understood in urban India,
caste equations would play a key role in deciding winners
in rural and semi-urban constituencies.
No single party has won a majority in any Lok Sabha election
since 1984. The Congress took power on its own in 1991 but
without a majority. Since then only coalitions have ruled
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