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India - April-May 2019 Elections

Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed victory 23 May 2019 in India's general election and vowed an "inclusive" future, with his party headed for a landslide win to crush the Gandhi dynasty's comeback hopes. With around half the 600 million votes cast counted, Election Commission data showed Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning 300 of India's 543 elected lower house seats.

The BJP's main rivals Congress were on just 49 seats, with Rahul Gandhi -- the great-grandson, grandson and son of three premiers -- faced a humiliating loss in the seat held by India's once-mighty political dynasty for generations. Gandhi was contesting for the member of parliament's (MP) position from the Amethi constituency in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The area, which had been a Congress party stronghold for over 40 years, will now be represented by the BJP's Smriti Irani.

The preliminary count predicted a commanding majority in the lower house for the BJP and its allies, who were on course for almost 50 additional seats. They would still lack a majority in the upper house, however, putting a brake on Modi's legislative agenda.

A winning party or coalition in India's lower house of Parliament, called the Lok Sabha, needs at least 272 out of a total of 542 seats to form the government. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), which is the ruling coalition under the BJP, has won more than 340 seats. The BJP also managed to make inroads in states that had previously been dominated by other political parties. In the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh, the party surged ahead of the Indian National Congress (INC), which had recently won state-level elections in these areas.

Unemployment is reported to be at a four-decade high, with Asia's third-biggest economy growing too slowly to create jobs for the million Indians entering the labor market every month.

Modi, a former cadre in the militaristic hardline Hindu group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and chief minister of Gujurat in 2002 when riots killed more than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, is also seen as divisive. Lynchings of Muslims and low-caste Dalits for eating beef and slaughtering and trading in cattle have risen, adding to anxiety among India's 170-million-strong Muslim population. Under Modi several cities with names rooted in India's Islamic Mughal past have been re-named, while some school textbooks have been changed to downplay Muslims' contributions to India. The BJP did not field any Muslim candidate this year, raising concerns that the Muslim community, which makes up nearly 14% of India's majority-Hindu population, could have little representation in the future.

Modi had been able to establish a direct connection with people that went beyond party affiliation, and this personality-based voting also reflected an attempt to convert parliamentary elections into presidential elections. India is a parliamentary democracy, but this election seemed to have become a presidential kind of an election.

India held a general election in seven stages starting on April 11, the election commission said 10 March 2019, in what was the worlds biggest democratic exercise with the far-right Prime Minister Narendra Modi likely to benefit from tension with Pakistan. Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora told reporters that about 900 million voters would be eligible for the polls, about 15 million between the ages of 18 and 19 years. Votes will be counted on May 23, he said.

Until a few weeks earlier, a shortage of jobs and weak farm prices were seen as denting Modis popularity. But pollsters say his ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a clear advantage over opposition parties after Indias armed forces clashed with those of arch-rival Pakistan last month, triggering a wave of patriotic fervor across the country of 1.3 billion.

It must be both addictive and sobering to have the attention of the country's 1.3 billion people, and know that the actions you take in some way impact their individual trysts with destiny. PM Modi said 28 June 2018 the lure of power was such that the people behind the Emergency and those who opposed it have now joined hands. Two days ago it was the 43rd anniversary of Emergency. The lure of power is such that people who imposed it and those who opposed it have come together. They are just bothered about themselves and their family but not the society, he said at a meeting in Maghar. In a tacit understanding ahead of the May 2018 Kairana Lok Sabha bye-election, the Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samajwadi Party, Congress and Rashtriya Lok Dal have fielded a common candidate. Earlier, the SP-BSP alliance wrested the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats from the BJP.

The Election Commission of India was expected to announce in march 2019 its schedule for the polls to be held to elect 543 members of the Lok Sabha. Unless Prime Minister Narendra Modi calls them earlier, India's next Lok Sabha general elections will begin on Monday, 08 April 2019. The tenure of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government would end on 26 May 2019. The 2014 general elections were held in nine phases from April 7 to May 12 in 2014.

BJP is more confident. Its geographical base has become much bigger while its social base has expanded and its winnability increased. state-level regional political parties have realised that the marginalised Congress can at best be either a junior partner or a marginal supporter.

BJP President Amit Shah expressed his confidence over the partys performance in next years general elections, stating that it will be in power for next 50 years after its win 2019. Addressing the BJPs national executive meet 08 September 2018, Shah said that the assertion was not borne out of arrogance but on the basis of its performance. Shah said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is working hard and a lot of developmental work has been done by the government which will eventually lead them to victory. Highlighting that the country has now moved towards politics of performance, Shah said the BJP never relaxed even after assuming power in 2014.

After taking office, Modi enacted reforms that significantly increased administrative efficiency, drew up a huge infrastructure plan, attracted investment by promoting "Make in India" initiative, and successfully introduced Goods and Services Tax (GST), which unified the tax structure. India maintained the highest GDP growth rate among principal economies, but it was not significantly higher than that of the previous Congress government under Manmohan Singh. Indians had very high expectations of Modi but found he could not work magic. Economic reforms take time to deliver but citizens were not ready to wait.

The Modi government invested more in infrastructure and city services. Investment bolstered economic growth that allowed India to surpass France to become the world's sixth largest economy in July 2018. People who work in industries like manufacturing and services benefit most from the growth. But for farmers the truth was different. They accused the Modi government of investing too little in agriculture and rural areas. The infrastructure for agriculture in India is less developed and many farmers still make a living "depending on weather and climate." Farmers' lives have become harder over the four years BJP has been in power as the price of produce decreased while the cost of inputs like seeds and fertilizers kept rising.

Tens of thousands of farmers marched in multiple protests to the capital New Delhi demanding higher crop prices and better infrastructure for farming. The opposition accused the government of being too close to corporate houses and ignoring the interests of the middle and lower classes.

While it has accomplished a number of challenging tasks -such as introducing Goods and Services Tax, Bankruptcy Code and big infrastructure projects - by the start of the campaign for the 2019 elections, a big chunk of Modi's transformational agenda was still a work in progress. One promise the government is almost certain to fulfil before going to the voters again was electricity for all, after connecting all villages to the power grid by March 2018, except Uttar Pradesh.

The railways' modernisation plans are more or less grounded. This is just one example of the lack clarity and competing objectives that have been the hallmarks of the government's Make in India campaign under which it wants to raise the share of manufacturing in the country's GDP to 25 per cent from close to 18 per cent at present. So far, except for a few mobile phone units and locomotive factories, there are few signs that foreign companies had much interest in setting up manufacturing units in India.

Fast industrial progress is a must if India has to have any chance of removing rural poverty for which one of the biggest reasons is dependence of nearly half the country's population on agriculture. Rural India has been struggling with slow agriculture growth for quite some time. Oil prices have touched $80 a barrel, having been around $40 a barrel during most of this government's tenure.

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi in November 2018 launched a sharp attack on Modi, saying the prime minister broke every single promise he made, including that of being a "honest" prime minister.

Amid efforts to unite non-BJP forces in the run-up to the 2019 parliamentary election, Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said 09 September 2018 that party president Rahul Gandhi would find automatic acceptance in the opposition ranks sooner than later. Referring to Gandhis assertion that the 2019 Lok Sabha election would be an ideological fight to dislodge the BJP first, Kharge said, We want to take the lead in dislodging the BJP. Our leader Rahul Gandhi is naturally leading this fight. We want everyones support in this. We want everyones cooperation. Everyone is coming together. Everything will get sorted before the election.

The comments come only two days after Trinamool Congress leader Chandan Mitra said the prime ministerial candidate after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will surely be a regional leader because regional leaders are established in their domains and that the game has changed now.

India's ruling party faced major losses in key state assembly elections. The result was seen as a setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi vying for re-election in next year's general election. The polls took place in November and December in 5 states with the vote being counted on 11 December 2018. They included 3 populous states currently held by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party. Local media are projecting the party will not be able to secure a majority in all 5 assemblies. During the election campaign, Modi emphasized the country's rapid economic growth. But experts said farmers, who account for 60 percent of India's population, feel abandoned and many are throwing their support behind the opposition. Some compared the situation with the 2004 loss by former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP faced setbacks in the assembly elections in the three heartland states of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The Congress won Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, while it fell two seats short of the majority mark in Madhya Pradesh. The Congress swept Rajasthan, bagging a total of 99 seats while a seat won by ally Ajit Singh meant they touched the majority mark of 100 seats in the state. The BJP, who could not buck an anti-incumbency trend in the state, won 73 seats. In Madhya Pradesh, the competition was tighter, with the Congress slightly ahead with 114 seats against BJP's 108 seats. PM Modi said "we accept the people's mandate with humility".

CPI-M leader and former Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said hat the election results in five states "reflected the agony and distress of the people due to mis-governance of the BJP-led Central and state governments".

If the verdict in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh was taken in account along with the likelihood of Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party coming together, there was a real possibility of the BJP losing anything from 80 to 100 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The results of the five assembly elections including the three Hindi heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, which were until now under the BJP came as a shot in the arm for Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who was desperately in need of a credible electoral victory to disprove his critics who maintained he was politically immature.

Modi is a member of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which claims the country's land, civilization, lifestyle and the country itself as belonging to Hindus. Hindu nationalism is the main ideology of the BJP. After the general election in 2014, Hindu zealots demanded that India supplant secularism as the guiding principle of Indian society. Adept at social mobilization, the RSS played an important role in BJP's win in 2014. The people took a liking to Modi after he took office. But the RSS was averse to Modi's popularity and foreign investment that it believes would damage India's culture, values and local economy. The BJP rather thinks election to election, while the RSS takes a long-term view of things and doesn't fight elections as it is not a political party.

India is a diverse country where Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Christianity and other religions coexist. Right-wing Hindu nationalism has not only intimidated believers of other religions, but is also opposed by liberal Hindus who promote secularism and believe right-wing ideology would foment splits and conflicts. After state elections, the Congress said democracy had won. "Thank you India, you have chosen love over hate, peace over violence & truth over lies. The victory is yours".

The BJP was under pressure from its ideological mentor RSS, alliance partner Shiv Sena and Hindutva organisations which were demanding a parliamentary law or an ordinance for construction of Ram temple. Sena MPs staged a protest in the Lok Sabha demanding immediate construction of the temple. "The issue of Ram temple was used once in the past and the BJP stood benefited by it.

The clamor for Ram temple construction in Ayodhya and Hindutva push by renaming Faizabad as Ayodhya and Allahabad as Prayagraj in the midst of high voltage campaign by BJP during assembly elections in poll-bound states could not override the anti-incumbency in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh nor could they beat the trend of Rajasthan effecting government change in elections. The timing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad organising a Dharm Sabha in Ayodhya and then one in Delhi to demand enactment of a law for Ram Temple also coincided with the assembly elections in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh that had been saffron bastions.

A day after the BJP's poll debacle in three Hindi heartland states, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said 12 December 2018 that the Ram temple issue might not work in favor of the saffron party again, unlike in the past, if it is raised ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls. He alleged that the BJP may try to create a communal divide on the temple issue which is a "matter of concern". In case they (the BJP) raise the issue again, people do not accept an issue twice... So, I don't think it (Ram temple) will benefit them (the BJP)," Pawar said.

The battering delivered to the BJP in the state elections got the leadership thinking will it be able to retain its parliamentary majority in New Delhi in 2019? After some other state elections earlier in the year returned a favorable mandate to the ruling party, senior BJP leaders thought the 2019 vote would be easy to win, but the elections results in five states Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana, and Mizoram announced on December 11 forced it to introspect. BJP lost to the Congress party in three states where it was in power for years. About three quarters of the seats the BJP won in the last general election came from eight states. But it has lost three of those states.

Some local parties could leave the National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP because of internal differences. In the general election in 2014, the BJP won more than half the seats in the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of parliament. The BJP will face challenges from the Congress and local parties in the general election. If it cannot win more than half the seats, the party will have to join hands with regional parties to form a coalition.

With the BJP unlikely to repeat the clear mandate he won five years ago, opposition parties are hoping to halt Modis return to power by forming an alliance if they win enough seats. Their ambitions depended heavily on how regional heavyweights perform in electorally significant states like Tamil Nadu in the south, where 38 seats were up for grabs in Thursdays round. The focus was also on half of the 28 seats being contested in Karnataka, another southern state where the BJP hoped to make up for losses it could suffer in its northern strongholds. The BJP warned of political instability if an opposition alliance comes to power and mocked these parties for lacking a common ideology. It also stitched up alliances with some small parties.

India had been governed by coalitions led by either the Congress or the BJP for decades until Modi secured the first single party parliamentary majority in 30 years in 2014. But his five-year-rule had seen a growing chorus of criticism from opponents who accuse him of seeking to impose a Hindu majoritarian agenda on the country and undermining its secular ethos.

In a no-holds-barred campaign, Modi has played to the BJPs nationalist, Hindu base and brushed aside criticism that he is using recent hostilities with Pakistan for electoral gain as he plays on national security concerns. If farmers die, then it is an election issue, but when soldiers die then it is not an election issue? How can that be? he told a television interviewer this week. The Congress party on the other hand has attacked his economic record flagging the need to address rising unemployment and alleviate rural distress. It is promising a cash handout to 20 percent of Indias poorest families.

The head of the opposition Congress Party, Rahul Gandhi led an aggressive campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, hoping to improve his partys tally from the all time low it hit in 2014 and emerge as a credible challenger to the Indian leader. Modi campaigned on a plank of nationalism saying only a strong government led by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) can defend the country, but his opponents accused him of sidelining major issues that confront the country. Citing distress in the countryside and unemployment as main issues after emerging from a polling booth, Gandhi said that It was a good fight. Narendra Modi used hatred, we used love. And I think love is going to win. Gandhis remark comes in the wake of sharp personal attacks that have resonated across campaign rallies in the run up to the last leg of polling.

Modi has called Rahul Gandhis father, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi corrupt number one in a reference to the purchase of artillery guns from Sweden in which he allegedly got kickbacks. The allegations were never proven but dominated political discourse in India during the 1990's as they turned the spotlight on high level corruption in defense deals. The BJP said Modis remarks were made in retaliation to Rahul Gandhi, who has been saying the watchman is a thief during his campaign speeches. Gandhi alleges that Modi, who calls himself the countrys watchman helped an industrialist make money in the purchase of 36 French fighter jets.

Counting of votes will take place on May 23. Results are expected the same day.

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