India has reached the starting line for its political race to begin. When the stakes are high and the choice is between hell and high water, we as voters have to put our best and most informed foot forward. But sifting through contradictory facts, alternate truths and hundreds of new election stories every day can be confusing, for experienced and first-time voters alike.
With the 2019 Lok Sabha election being touted as the turning point for Indian democracy, Qrius brings you a lexicon of facts, figures, and foibles to remember before heading to the polling booth.
A for Alliances
With the Opposition’s scheme of Mahagathbandhan falling short of its intended grandeur, the 2019 Lok Sabha election has turned seat-share arrangements into a heady tussle among national and regional parties.
As the deadline for filing nominations for the first phase of the 2019 Lok Sabha election draws closer, the BJP, Congress, and other parties are scrambling to carve alliances with existing allies and new friends across several states.
After suffering setbacks in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, Congress has finally forged alliances in key states—Maharashtra, Bihar, and Kashmir. In UP, which sends 80 parliamentarians, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav will continue their alliance, while Maharashtra as the second-largest state with 48 seats is headed for a big battle between the two major alliances—BJP and Shiv Sena vs Congress and NCP.
Tamil powers DMK and AIADMK will have Congress and BJP partnering with them, respectively. A lot is happening in Delhi and the Northeast.
- Special mention: Advertising for political benefits deserves an honorary mention and the BJP is leaving no stone unturned on that front. The ruling party, according to a recent report, spent over Rs 53 lakh on political ads on Facebook alone. Read about India’s murky campaign finance laws in India here.
B for BJP
The BJP is poised to stage a return to the Centre, spinning narratives that shift the national concern to security, development and industrialisation, while partaking in sectarian politics, having kept most of its 2014 promises unfulfilled.
Getting down to the brass tacks, the last five years have seen unemployment reach a record high in three decades, farmers marching to Parliament for loan waivers and crop insurance, and autonomy of gatekeeping institutions, namely the CBI, RBI, and NSSO severely curtailed; the BBC described surging nationalism as the menace driving fake news, while another landmark report deemed India as the most dangerous country in the world for women.
In the midst of rising hate crime and discontent, the Pulwama terror attack presented the government with a chance to play the powerful aggressor. In the manifesto released on Monday, therefore, action on terrorism has featured as the key pledge, followed by decisive steps to build the Ram Mandir, ensure farmers’ security, economic development, youth in governance, and women’s empowerment.
Many say the party may have tried to pass off old wine in a new bottle, while others contend that voters need to verify these pledges against available data, track record, and feasibility of the proposed schemes. [See: Y for Yojanas]
C for Congress
To highlight and counter BJP’s divisive politics, the Indian National Congress (INC), on April 4, released its crowd-funded manifesto a week ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, with a focus on basic income and social justice.
With the promise “Congress Will Deliver” or “Hum Nibhayenge”, the manifesto has pledged to create 35 lakh jobs and a separate farmers’ budget, besides reviving the Women’s Reservation Bill. It also promises to scrap the opaque Electoral Bond scheme and the dubious NITI Aayog, replacing them with an open-source National Election Fund and a well-defined centralised Planning Commission.
The poll promise document, despite being widely criticised as reckless, populist, and idealistic, serves as a reminder for the Modi government on what reform should look like. Congress’s own track record, however, leaves much to be desired and a lot to the imagination.
- Special mention: Chowkidars, of course. The saffron party’s #MainBhiChowkidar campaign on Twitter has encouraged lawmakers and bhakts alike to brand themselves as gatekeepers, while critics gape at the irony of the exercise. How could loan defaulters like Nirav Modi and terror outfits like JeM have wreaked so much havoc with such chowkidars protecting the nation, many have wondered.
D for Dissent
A systemic omission of all forms of questioning over the last five years has taken a toll on how the voter’s psyche functions, and what it perceives as truth, priority, and duty—making dissent and resistance a matter of national importance for the country’s 900 million registered voters.
Trolls, threats, censorship and suppression by brute force have further contributed heavily to curbing the freedom of critical speech. More than half the population identifies as “afraid of expressing their political views on the internet,” according to a report released by the Reuters Institute.
Environmental activists fast unto death without the Centre having budged an inch, while journalists who air the ugly truths are threatened, trolled online or shot at their doorstep. Academics found in possession of Naxal literature are sentenced to life even if they are 90% disabled, while those questioning the status quo are branded anti-national.
Read the full report on the state of dissent and resistance in Modi’s India here.
- Special mention: Dynasty politics, the trigger for the Chowkidar campaign, has backfired on the BJP which coined the term to mock the Nehru-Gandhi family’s preponderance in the INC. IndiaSpend’s analysis of the biographical profiles of all parliamentarians since 1952, however, shows that the BJP has had a similar number of ‘dynasts’ (31% to Congress’s 36%) amongst its elected parliamentarians over the last two decades.
E for Election Commission
The election watchdog last month laid down a code of conduct for Indian politicians, broadcast and print media, and social media platforms to adhere to while campaigning.
While the charter takes care to plug crucial loopholes with regard to social media ads and disclosure of candidates’ assets, education, and legal records, the panel has been severely criticised for choosing to ignore instances of blatant violation.
A group of former civil servants on Monday wrote a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, pointing out what they called weak-kneed responses of the EC ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election. They alleged that the Model Code of Conduct has been violated several times, but the poll body has failed to take action, especially with regard to NAMO TV, which broadcasts the PM’s rallies live, without a license.
F for Farmer’s crisis
It is not just the vagaries of nature that push the farmers toward desperate measures—apathy from the government toward the agriculture sector has undermined its fragile economy, Bestin Samuel writes for The Fair Observer.
Last year, a massive rally of farmers from across India marched to Delhi to highlight the worsening agrarian crisis and agitate against Centre’s oversight and its anti-farmer and anti-poor policies. Since then, numerous marches led by Kisan unions and grassroots organisations have followed, to demand complete loan waiver for farmers, compensation, relief, and insurance for crop damage in situations like drought, a higher minimum support price for crops, land rights, irrigation facilities, and pension schemes for farmers among others.
Rushing to plug the gaps in its agricultural policies in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, the NDA government announced an income support scheme worth Rs 6,000 a year for farmers in the Interim Budget 2019. Critics and Opposition have panned the move; “At Rs 500 per month, it will amount to less than 1/15th of an average household’s income. Per annum, it’s peanuts,” said agricultural economist Ashok Gulati.
G for Gau Raksha
Polarising people along religious lines and playing the cow politics card has exacerbated under the current dispensation. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Gau Raksha Cell is specifically tasked with informing the local police about potential “cow smugglers” and haranguing peddlers and consumers of beef, while Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has made protecting cows an integral part of his political discourse and electoral agenda.
Open disdain for beef consumption and cow slaughter has emboldened a lot of right-wing groups to take matters into their own hands, leading to an alarming increase in lynching of Muslim men around major cow belts.
Last year, two cases of violence attracted attention, first whenRakbar Khan was allegedly killed on suspicion of being a cow smuggler by a mob in Alwar, Rajasthan, and the other where police inspector Subodh Singh died in Bulandshahr, UP, after protests over an alleged incident of cow slaughter snowballed into violence.
In the latest instance of vigilantism, an aged Muslim man was beaten up this week and force-fed pork by a right-wing mob in Assam, a BJP-run state where beef isn’t banned yet.
H for Hindutva
Denying India’s diverse identity lies at the core of Hindutva politics that the government tried to relentlessly exhort by renaming cities with historically Muslim names, denying minorities their fundamental rights, conflating mythology with history and revising it to portray Hindus as the rightful inhabitants of India. The agenda for the Ram Mandir and billing anything anti-Hindutva as anti-national are two of its symptoms.
Hindutva is monotheistic in spirit, as it prefers to focus on one deity, Bharat Mata, the embodiment of the nation-state, writes Devdutt Patnaik for India Today. This is not only regressive but extremely debilitating for a country built around a rich fabric of heterogeneous cultures, religions, languages, and ideologies.
Some have even argued that picking on hardline Hindutva sentiments also doubles as diversionary tactics, given the Centre’s failure in tackling far more important issues on which they had gone to polls in 2014.
I for Intolerance
It is difficult to say which came first: Hindutva ideology or intolerance for the “other”. But both are intertwined insofar as the growing tendency to conflate Hindutva with Hinduism, or to mistake nationalism for patriotism, is concerned.
The last few years have been brutal for India’s minority communities, who have come under the scourge of divisive politics and considerable pressure to fend for their own security and interests.
Emboldened by the government’s sectarian stance, right-wing extremism and rising intolerance has led to a culture of saffronisation, where the marginalised are lynched, trolled, even killed for exercising their fundamental rights to pray where they like, eat what they like, and marry who they like.
- Special mention: Identity Politics
J for Jio
Chief among the government’s alleged beneficiaries is Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio that disrupted the telecom sector with cheap access to the internet. Critics have been quick to point out that the Centre, in the process, has conveniently ignored state-run telecom firm BSNL, which is in severe debt and on the brink of disinvestment.
Not to forget, the entire controversy around the “proposed” Jio University being awarded the “eminence” tag.
K for Kashmir
The crisis that never ends has taken a worse turn over the last few years despite calls for peaceful resolution sounded by the UNHRC. Extra-judicial atrocities against Kashmiri civilians, including children, are on the rise; constant flexing of military power over the line of ceasefire have destabilised the Valley further. The BJP government in the state and at the Centre blames the rise of militancy in the region on minorities, after stoking fear and resentment among Kashmiris with the bid to repeal Article 35A, which grants the people of the state a special status and natural right to inherit or own land/property.
Last month, a teacher with suspected links to a militant outfit who was brought in for questioning died in custody, as protests flared up in parts of Kashmir. This week, a right-wing RSS activist was killed in the Valley; the cycle of violence is likely to continue until the next large-scale terror attack.
L for Loan defaulters
As the likes of Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya, and Mehul Choksi continue to escape punitive action for defaulting on loans that have cost the country’s economy millions and weakened public sector banks, the taxpayer gets more incensed at the government for its leniency towards fugitive economic offenders.
Despite the PM’s resolve to combat the nuisance on a global platform like the G20 summit with help from the Financial Action Task Force, bureaucratic delays in sending extradition requests, confiscating passports, and implementing preventive measures for flight-risk offenders leads one to doubt the credibility and sincerity of the government’s claims.
Liquor baron Mallya of the Kingfisher scandal and diamantaire Modi of the PNB scam are currently in the UK, while the latter’s uncle Choksi has received asylum in Antigua and Barbados.
M for Modi wave
PM Narendra Modi is looking at a second term, if opinion polls indicate which way the voters will swing in the coming weeks. His aggressive campaigns in the last few days have paid off, and without a formidable opponent to challenge his candidacy, the allure of Modi’s power, especially to the middle class that he favours, will be hard to dominate.
Over the last few years, he has kept a tight leash on the functioning of all government bodies and brokered crucial international partnerships, notably with the US and Russia.
By making national security his primary plank, Modi has unlocked the secret to accrue the trust of a deeply divided and diverse nation. He has followed it up with a strong public and social media presence, considerable tax cuts for the common employee, and optical projects aimed at globalisation.
The means and costs of these stratagems while questionable, cannot rule out the fact that he is the front-runner for all those who have lost faith in liberal and leftist governments.
- Special mention: Manifestos 2019
N for National Register of Citizens (NRC)
The question of nationality and citizenship has polarised the Northeast deeply ever since the Centre announced the draft NRC to strip 40 lakh Assamese people of their Indian identity; it followed this up with the tabling of the Citizenship Bill that would make it legal to deny Muslim immigrants Indian citizenship.
Updated for the first time since 1951 to account for illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, the draft NRC released in August 2018 has left out 40,07,708 people and has refused to justify the large-scale exemption despite obvious discrepancies in the verification process. So far, at least two of those left out of the list have died in detention camps in Assam.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (2016) further fuelled this controversy later last year, leading to widespread protests and political unrest among NDA allies who threatened to quit the alliance over the issue.
O for Opposition
The Opposition to BJP-led NDA government is strong but divided along ideological and agenda-driven lines. A formidable gathbandhan can determine if the upcoming polls will witness a historic triangular fight among the central parties—BJP and Congress—and regional allies, while also testing the power and prospects of a third federal alliance working in India’s political structure.
Vowing to remove BJP from the Centre, over 20 regional leaders and two from the Congress attended the show of unity that West Bengal CM, and Trinamool leader Mamata Banerjee organised in January. Billed as the largest such event in the state’s contemporary history, the giant rally was declared a hit as the leaders put up a formidable front against BJP’s hegemony.
But so far, only a handful of opposition alliances have been cobbled together, and only a few of them can drive a head-to-head fight against the NDA.
P for Pulwama
A ghastly terror attack shook Kashmir Valley on February 14 after an explosives-laden SUV ripped through a paramilitary convoy on the Srinagar-Jammu highway. Touted as one of the deadliest attacks in the disputed region in recent years, it killed nearly 40 Central Reserve Police Force jawans.
With the Pulwama attack, the Centre was presented with an opportunity to display how seriously it takes border and national security, how aggressively it can respond to its enemies and how well it can weaponise the army for electoral gains.
Unfortunately, but predictably enough, the post-Pulwama attack situation became all about vested interests, as pre-emptive strikes, counter-strikes and barbed attacks followed. What followed diplomatic and economic sanctions was a militarised response.
The Indian media blew the state’s response way out of proportion, leaving more lawmakers and civilians baying for blood. What’s more alarming is the fact that a large section of the demographic dividend seemed to care very less for the glaring lack of evidence of these strikes, or that PM Modi did not make a call for peace the entire time, even when the country edged dangerously close to a war, or that his defence ministry failed to protect its troops better.
Instead, manufactured hate and anger, chest-thumping, and the vocabulary of retribution became a part of the national discourse with Modi continuing to use the army and the attack to shore up votes. Dedicate your votes to Pulwama, he said at a rally yesterday, drawing immediate criticism from the opposition for flouting the EC’s code.
“However, the prime minister will not desist,” writes Raghu Karnad. “The reason is that Modi’s popularity, dipping low in January, has risen by as much as ten points thanks to the optics of the Balakot air strike. (In the actual period between the Pulwama suicide-attack and India’s counter-strike at Balakot, the prime minister remained busy campaigning and travelling.)”
Q for Quota
A sore topic for socially and economically backward communities, the demand for affirmative action has transformed into a major vote-buying ploy for political parties in India. With the announcement of the 10% upper caste quota for economically backward sections of the general category, the BJP government has successfully stoked similar demands from the Jat, Patidar, and Maratha communities, also vying for reservations in jobs and education. Meanwhile, the reservation for SC, ST and OBCs are capped at 52%, while BR Ambedkar’s initial plan to discontinue quota after complete integration of the historically oppressed classes into the social system, remains a distant dream. Qrius tries to contextualise the quota system vis-a-vis caste, populism and politics here. [Also refer to X for X-axis]
R for Rahul Gandhi
Opinion surveys show Rahul Gandhi is the Opposition’s best bet against Modi mania, but they also reveal a wide margin between their approval ratings. While the Congress president has lofty promises—provision of jobs, introduction of the Women’s Reservation Bill, and basic income to all those who need it—his party has failed to live up to expectations before. The 2019 manifesto further sheds little light on how some of these economic and social justice-driven schemes will be implemented or funded.
That said, the Congress did waive farmers’ loans in the three states it snatched from the BJP in the Assembly polls last year. But Gandhi’s political stances and strategies are moderate at best; to challenge the BJP and Modi, in particular, a radical transformation in public perception is highly solicited.
S for Sectarian vs. Secular
This is a critical distinguishing line for voters who wish to re-elect the BJP government for a second time and those who wish to bring in a more tolerant government. There is no sugar-coating the fact that the rise of sectarian conflict has coincided with the rise of the right. Saying no to religious nationalism and voting to preserve India’s secular identity should be a priority, writes Avijit Pathak for The Wire.
Choosing sectarian politics over secularism, Pathak believes, would destroy “the ethos of a civilisation known for its splendid diversity … the people of this bounded geographical territory called India—artisans and farmers, workers and struggling masses, and Dalits and tribals—will continue to experience the horror of economic insecurity, joblessness, and cultural marginalisation.”
- Special mention: Social Media and Fake News
T for Tribal rights
Senior Editor Tejaswi Subramanian writes: “The rights of tribal people and their spaces has been a point of deep discussion in recent times. And of course, the discussion about tribal livelihood, health, and ecosystems, among others, in Indian politics is long overdue. However, the subject has been sparingly addressed in the ongoing political campaigns and manifestos, and this comes as no surprise.”
“In the past, tribal issues have largely gone unseen by the manifestos released by parties as they compete for power at various levels of the Indian state,” she notes, adding that ignoring these issues is not without political consequence.
At the same time, it is important to legitimise their claims to space and respect their lifestyles, instead of constantly thrusting mainstream ideas of development as a contest to them.
U for Unemployment
In May 2014, a new government came to power on the plank of “high priority to job creation”. Four years later, in the absence of regular and reliable data on employment in India, BJP’s performance on that count is the subject of heated debate among economists and commentators.
The allegedly ‘buried’ jobs report, based on National Sample Survey Office’s first periodic labour force survey after demonetisation, shows that India’s unemployment rate attained a 45-year high of 6.1% during 2017-2018. Instead of creating 25 crore jobs, as promised in 2014, Modi’s note ban caused jobs to go missing, it claims, besides comparatively stating that unemployment stood at 2.2% under the UPA government in 2011-12.
Even without this data, India’s unemployment problem was hard to miss, but this report portrays a grim scenario, which is BJP’s own making.
Most workers claim that work dried up in 2016 after Modi banned 86% of the legal tender in November, and the labour market was utterly paralysed by mid-2017. With new notes taking long to enter the system, the liquidity crunch stymied economic activity, hitting the construction sector the worst, which is India’s largest employer of workers after agriculture.
Studies show that the number of days labourers spend working is significantly less than before, and even though daily wages have marginally increased, the decline in the number of working days negates the boost. In terms of availability of work and trends in wages, the government’s policies have left daily-wage earners in a bigger lurch than before.
In August 2018, Modi claimed that, in the previous financial year, “more than 70 lakh jobs were created in the formal sector alone”, but that has been refuted by a lot of independent studies, notably by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, whose report shows about 1.1 crore people lost their jobs in 2018, while the unemployment rate rose to 7.4% in December 2018, the highest in 15 months.
V for ‘Vote against Hate’ campaign
While most of Bollywood is silent or enamoured with the state of governance, over 100 filmmakers, 200 writers, 100 visual artists, 300 academics and 600 theatre artistes have issued statements, appealing to citizens to vote BJP’s hate politics, bigotry, and apathy out of power.
Signatories include Amol Palekar, Anurag Kashyap, Lillete Dubey, Naseeruddin Shah, Mahesh Dattani, Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak Shah, Anand Patwardhan, Arundhati Roy, Girish Karnad, Nayantara Sahgal, T M Krishna, Orijit Sen, Jeet Thayil, and Romila Thapar.
The period of BJP’s rule has “normalised terrorising and lynching Muslims, and other religious minorities; attacks on Dalits and Adivasis; heightened conditions of violence against women; other than a concerted effort to undo secular traditions of education at the school, college and university levels”, said the petition by a academics.
One of the statements specifically appeals to people to “vote against the BJP and its allies” and to vote for a secular, democratic, and inclusive India. “Vote to empower the weakest, protect liberty, protect the environment, and foster scientific thinking,” it says.
W for Women’s security
The treatment of Indian women as second-class citizens came under massive scrutiny last year, with a landmark report by the Thomson Reuters Foundation depicting India as the most dangerous place for women.
The #MeToo movement that called out the sexist workplace culture later last year barely scratches the surface of the ignominy and fear women have to live through. And the dangers are more pronounced for women from marginalised communities, especially Dalits and transgender persons.
The government also failed to be on the right side of history for once, vehemently opposing the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing women to enter the Sabarimala temple in Kerala.
On Thursday, April 4, women across the country marched for their rights under the banner of Women March 4 Change. Hundreds of women, Dalits, transgenders and their allies from 143 districts of 20 different Indian states, especially in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, and Bengaluru agitated against gender-based violence and discrimination, while encouraging people to vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
X for X-axis
The X-axis stands for shifty statistical data as it becomes more unreliable and increasingly hidden from public view. Take the unreleased caste census, GDP back-series update or the buried employment survey, for example.
The UPA government, in 2011, had undertaken a Socio-Economic Caste Census for the first time in eight decades, reports of which were submitted in 2015. The latest census data, however, remains unavailable, although RTI activists have written to the Centre to publish the findings, time and again over the last three years.
The objective of the latest census was to get a picture of the caste structure and work out targeted welfare scheme for the relevant groups. Experts say the census has thrown up astronomical data—a higher OBC population—that could lead to demands for a higher quota in government and jobs.
Similarly, the delay in publishing the household survey results could be because the government is uncomfortable with its findings. This means the report contains damning evidence that demonetisation may have adversely affected the job market, which it did. [See U for Unemployment]
The Centre kicked up another major row last year when it claimed that India’s economy grew by 8.5% in 2010-2011, and not by 10.3% as thought earlier, thus bringing the GDP accrued during UPA’s tenure down by nearly 2%. A new back-series was called for, because old data was deemed incomparable to that of the later years, although the Centre’s move to change the base year from 2004-2005 to 2011-2012 after Modi came to power has been deemed as a deliberate bid to confuse the masses.
What was criticised the most was the move to bypass and supersede the NSC’s series by opting for NITI Aayog’s.
Y for Yojanas
Most of Modi’s policies bank on self-employment, skill development, and incentivising employers to create more jobs. Despite his claims that the high unemployment numbers are because “traditional matrix of measuring jobs is simply not good enough to measure new jobs in the new economy of New India”, the fact is that all his schemes are far behind target; they are also anti-people and pro-corporate and have incited 10 central trade unions to call for a nationwide strike last December.
The Modi government launched the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana in 2016 aimed at improving crop insurance coverage for farmers. Studies later found that the coverage actually shrunk under the PMFBY allowing insurers to pocket windfall gains.
Under Pradhan Mantri Rozgar Protsahan Yojana, the Centre gives new employees (earning below Rs 15,000/month) the entire 12% of employers’ contribution towards the Employers Provident Fund (EPF) for a period of three years. But at least 40% of the eligible employees in the country are still outside its purview while existing employees were being enrolled in the scheme, and employers who had been violating the EPF are being incentivised.
The widely publicised ‘Make in India’ programme to “transform India into a global design and manufacturing hub” also failed to address manufacturing bottlenecks and the lack of employment in that sector, owing to saturation of Indian exports.
The Pradhan Mantri Mudra Scheme (PMMS) promised to allocate loans of up to Rs 10 lakh to target micro, small, and medium enterprises, but most of them have only added to the Non-Performing Assets crisis. Some of its benefactors have claimed that PMMS credit-driven businesses are unsustainable because the average amount of loans disbursed is Rs 30,000.
Ayushman Bharat, which could have been a game changer, has failed to bridge the gap between public and private healthcare delivery systems. Amartya Chowdhury writes for Qrius, “States with an underdeveloped public healthcare system, such as Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh, stand to suffer more from the Ayushman Bharat scheme due to the lack of regulation in its healthcare industries, the relative lack of private health providers in non-urban areas, and the levels of development in each state compared to others.”
- Special mention: Of the most controversial comments and egregious lies peddled by a lawmaker in the last few years, UP CM Yogi Adityanath‘s surpass any other. From openly advocating and stoking communal fervour, condoning right-wing extremism, to lambasting his political opponents and justifying budget allocation for cow sheds, he hasn’t even spared Shah Rukh Khan. Last week, he came in the line of fire for referring to the Indian Army as “Modiji ki sena”.
Z for Gen Z
With the very idea of India under threat today, a significant portion of the demographic dividend voting for the first time will play a huge role in the outcome of the 2019 Lok Sabha election. A Scroll report says most urban Indians are divided among themselves about their political affiliations and ideologies. This suggests that the hope of an alternative is not dead and gone.
Will the makers of future India help bring in a government that values social justice for a change? Only time will tell.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius.