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വായന

13 May, 2014

All over bar the shouting

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With the last batch of 41 constituencies in three states going to the polls on Monday, the long-drawn-out voting process in the general election has been completed. All that now remains is the counting of votes, scheduled for Friday, and the shouting.

Leaving the keenest, bitterest and dirtiest campaign behind, the nation is awaiting the answer to the question who will form the next government — the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance which ruled during the past 10 years, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance which was in power for six years previously or a third force comprising small national and regional parties as on a few occasions earlier occasions.

The BJP ran a no-holds-barred campaign under Narendra Modi, whom its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, had picked as the prime ministerial candidate. A critical element in its strategy was the generation of a Modi wave with the help of groups adept in traditional and new media marketing techniques.

It believes the strategy worked. In the closing stages of the campaign, Modi referred to himself as the next prime minister. However, the decision to keep NDA’s doors open to newcomers indicates the BJP is not sure of getting 272+ seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha.

The Congress, carrying multiple burdens of incumbency, graft charges and dampening pre-poll survey reports, claims it is still in the reckoning. It believes small parties which can play a big role in a hung parliament will be willing to back it. But they want to cobble together a federal front and force the Congress to back them to prevent the BJP’s coming to power.

A realistic appraisal of the possible combinations must wait until the electronic voting machines yield their secret and the strength of the different parties in the new house becomes known.

While the poll process was on the BJP was able to woo back into the NDA some parties which were its partners during 1998-2004, like the Lok Janashakti Party of Bihar, the Telugu Desam Party of Andhra Pradesh and Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Pattali Makkal Kachi of Tamil Nadu.

However, more powerful former partners like the Trinamool Congress of West Bengal, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of Tamil Nadu and the Biju Janata Dal of Odisha stayed away. Towards the end, Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee and AIAMDK leader J Jayalalithaa took a strong anti-BJP line with a view to reassuring their Muslim supporters and bolstering their position in the proposed federal front.

Modi set the tone and tenor of the campaign, which soon turned abusive, and leaders of other parties responded in kind. His prime targets were Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Priyanka Gandhi, who was chief campaigner for mother Sonia in Rae Bareli and brother Rahul in Amethi, described Modi’s politics as “neech” (meaning low), a term often used to denote those at the bottom of the caste hierarchy. Modi complained she had called him low-born. Mamata Banerjee called Modi donkey.

Television channels picked up every word that should not have been said. They played it repeatedly and took it up for discussion in the nightly shows.

The Election Commission too had a taste of Modi’s wrath. When it upheld the District Collector’s decision to deny him permission to hold a rally in Varanasi on grounds of security, he accused it of match fixing. A cartoonist presented the situation differently. He depicted Modi as a boxer who leaves his opponent and punches the referee. There were 8,163 candidates for the 543 seats, an average of 15+ for every seat. While the number of multimillionaire candidates rose from 1,249 in 2009 to 2,208, that of candidates facing serious criminal charges like murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and crimes against women jumped from 608 to 889.

The people, the parties and the Election Commission can pat themselves on the back for completing the process involving an electorate of 814.5 million more or less peacefully. So far the highest turnout in a Lok Sabha election was 63.56 per cent registered in 1984. This time, when eight of the nine phases were completed, the poll percentage stood at 66.27. It must have gone up further in the last phase.

The Aam Admi Party, which made its parliamentary debut with 427 candidates, holds out some hope for the future as it is the first secular national party to come up in a long time. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 13, 2014.

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