Indian Election Update - The Fifth Phase

The fifth phase of India’s general elections took place on Monday, May 6th. There were about 90 million people that voted in this phase, in seven states and fifty-one constituencies. The states that voted in this phase include Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Bengal. This phase was particularly important, as amongst the candidates voted on include Rajnath Singh, Smriti Irani, Rahul Gandhi, and Sonia Gandhi. This phase is under scrutiny especially because the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won 40 seats in these states in the 2014 election, which left only a few for opposition parties. It is unclear whether the BJP will have such a strong victory in these states during this election season, with the results announced on May 23rd.

 

Voting in this phase was held for fourteen seats in Uttar Pradesh, twelve seats in Rajasthan, seven seats for West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh individually, five in Bihar, and four in Jharkhand. There were about 94,000 polling stations that were used. This phase is the smallest one, but will end the polling for 424 seats. There are 118 seats left to vote on, which will be completed in the sixth and seventh phases. The voter turnout was averaged around 62.5% in the different constituencies, and specifically 57.1% in Uttar Pradesh. 

 

There was violence spread out throughout the country during this voting phase, specifically in Kashmir and West Bengal. Two polling stations in the Pulwama region of Kashmir were met with bombs, but there were no casualties. While one went off, the other was defused before it could cause any harm. This region has been in the news for the past few months, due to the terrorist attack in February at the hands of Jaish-e-Muhammad. The conflict between the Trinamool Congress Party and opposition parties in West Bengal is still ongoing, and crude bombs were thrown between the regional party and BJP in this phase. During the third phase of the elections, one Congress worker and three people were injured, and in the fourth phase, a BJP candidate was attacked.

 

In a May 1st election rally in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, Prime Minister Modi brought up the recent terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka in comparison to the attacks in Ayodhya decades earlier. He mentioned that the Congress Party had held a soft stance towards the terrorists, and his party has done the opposite. Modi stated, “When you vote for BJP, your vote will come directly to Modi. This is the land of Lord Ram, this is the land of the country’s dignity." This Hindu nationalist dialogue has been used by the BJP throughout this election season, and Modi’s referral to the previous religious strife within Ayodhya seemed to be an attempt to push this ideology.

 

The Election Commission of India has become much stricter regarding the election process and the guidelines set for the political parties in contention. The Commission has set a limit of seven million rupees for parties to spend on their entire campaign, a rule that the BJP allegedly broke during a road show in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. While this guideline was set to try and establish an equal playing field for all candidates, many believe that it is an unfair price limit to set on campaign efforts. The Commission could disqualify a candidate for spending above their seven million rupee limit, at any point in their term. The Election Commission has also become more stringent regarding corruption within political parties, as some candidates take part in the illegal distribution of cash and alcohol for votes. Since the end of March, the Commission has confiscated over $470 million in cash, alcohol, and drugs in relation with the election.

 

The next phase of the election will take place on May 12th, and the seventh and final phase will take place on May 19th. The results will be announced to the public on May 23rd, which will determine whether BJP will remain the party in power.

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