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“If Congress comes with a majority they will lead us into progress.”
“We need more jobs, BJP’s Modi has promised development and job creation, he should win.”
“The common man’s darling is Arvind Kejriwal from AAP party. He will remove corruption from India.”
For months leading up to April 7, when the world’s largest democracy went into election mode, such discussions were common around dinner tables, living rooms and local gatherings.
“Madam, we need a government that can tackle rising prices. After paying the rent for this auto I hardly have enough left to give a decent meal to my kids and send them to school,” lamented Raju, the autowalla I usually end up hiring.
Political party leaders and workers screamed slogans over loudspeakers as they went riding through villages, towns and cities; cheering, urging and cajoling (sometimes even threatening, unofficially of course) India’s 814 million vote bank for its support. Meanwhile, the social media and the Indian mainstream news media went into a frenzy trying to be the first to predict the winner.
Amidst the cacophony the great Indian voter – the elite, the middle class and the poor, alike — pondered over eligible candidates for their precious franchise.
Should it be Rahul Gandhi? The shy scion of the dynastic Nehru-Gandhi family and vice-president of the centre-left Congress party with his goofy smile and innocent face. The Nehru-Gandhi family has ruled Congress – and India – almost uninterrupted since its independence. His claim to fame: Great grandson of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, grandson of Indira Gandhi the dynamic PM of India, and son of Rajiv Gandhi again the country’s PM. It runs in the family!
Or Narendra Modi? The prime ministerial candidate from the right-wing political group Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP). A tea seller in his youth who prides himself on being an outsider amid New Delhi’s political elite and boasts of a ’56-inch chest’. That surely holds a big heart, right? Claim to fame: Anti-Muslim violence in the western state of Gujarat in 2002, when he was chief minister of the state, leaving over 1000 people dead. The state is also touted as a model for prosperity and industrialisation, a feat Mr. Modi has promised to replicate pan-India.
What about Arvind Kejriwal? Former income-tax officer and leader of the Aam Adami Party (AAP) who loves to go on hunger-strikes at the drop of a hat. His party grew out of nationwide protests against corruption and price rise but soon lost steam. Claim to fame: Resigning from the post of Chief Minister of New Delhi state within 49 days of being elected, late last year, to contest the national elections. The common man wanted him to shirk his responsibilities for the greater goal. Or so he thought!
The election verdict, when it came out on May 16, bowled everyone.
The BJP had won with a thumping majority. A little over 550 million out of India’s 814 million voters from 28 states, seven territories and a multitude of faiths had granted Mr. Modi the power to become the country’s 15th Prime Minister.
Some say India voted in favour of economic development and personal aspirations. I say, it was all a matter of who had greater muscle mass. Remember the 56-inch chest?
Winning over 50% of the total 543 seats in the lower house of the Parliament (the House of Commons or Lok Sabha) Mr. Modi has an outright majority to form the new government without the need to broker for a post-election coalition.
The landslide victory would ensure that the pro-business BJP is able to fulfil its expansive promises without the policy paralysis that hobbled the previous Congress-led coalition due to non-supportive allies. Promises of economic revival, job creation, good governance and poverty alleviation.
The voting exercise in India began on April 7 and continued in nine phases for five weeks until May 12, costing an estimated US$ 5 billion, spent by the government, political parties and candidates.
A major part of that money went into ordering ladoos (round orange-hued sweetmeats, very popular in India). Anticipating a sweet victory, BJP had ordered 40,000 of these even before election results were out.
In India, government schools and colleges are chosen as polling stations and Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) are used instead of ballot boxes to prevent election fraud via booth capturing or taking over of the polling station by mute force. An indelible ink is applied on the left index finger of the voter as an indicator that the voter has cast his vote.
This year, the Election Commission of India also set out to provide elaborate security measures and EVMs within two kilometres of every voter – a big and expensive challenge in a country as vast and geographically complicated as India.
However, many voters remained disenfranchised as their names went missing from the electoral lists while poll booth violence erupted in some states like West Bengal and Kashmir.
Technology played an important role in election 2014. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter were agog with political humour, personal slander and serious debate as the 240 million Indian internet users engaged in virtual chatter. Mr. Modi even took the advantage of holographic imagery to make campaign speeches in various parts of the country simultaneously.
Image credit: tumblr/stories-yet-to-be-written
The NOTA button or the option of choosing “None of the Above” (NOTA) if a voter did not like any of the candidates in his/her constituency was also introduced in this national election as was a third gender choice – “other” – on voter registration forms.
Mr. Modi, who has been refused a US visa many times and was boycotted by the British government, is now being wooed by global leaders as they look forward to stronger economic and trade ties with India – a country of over a billion people.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether the ‘hero’ emerging from the great Indian election drama does indeed deliver on his promises!
Jayati is a freelance writer who loves to explore books, eateries, nooks and crannies. While sipping endless cappuccinos, she brags about her discoveries at: ginovertonic.com