The first two phases of India’s national parliamentary elections seemed less like an appetizer than an amuse bouche.
But after a slow start that saw voting in just 13 constituencies confined to seven relatively isolated states in India’s far northeast, the third phases gets underway today with a blast.
Unlike the first two rounds, the April 10 phase, which will determine 91 out of 543 constituencies in the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा), will have a real impact in deciding India’s next government.
Before going any further, here’s a map of India’s states for reference:
Theoretically, today’s largest prize is the southern state of Kerala (pictured above), where all 20 constituencies will hold elections today in the tropical southwestern state of 33.4 million.
But, by and large, it’s a race between the center-left and the far left.
The governing Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) competes in Kerala as part of a wider coalition called the United Democratic Front (UDF), which includes the Indian Union Muslim League and the Kerala Congress (M), among other parties. The UDF currently controls the state government as well, following a strong victory in April 2011.
Its main opponent is the Left Democratic Front (LDF), another coalition, dominated by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM, भारत की कम्युनिस्ट पार्टी (मार्क्सवादी)).
Though the CPM lost power three years ago, it has governed Kerala longer than any other party, including Congress. As if that weren’t somewhat of an oddity, it was the first communist party in the world to lead a democratically elected government when it first took power in 1957, also the first time that an opposition party defeated Congress in any Indian state. What’s more, Kerala’s communist governments are responsible for some of the highest incidence of social, welfare, health and educational progress in India, though the state is not India’s wealthiest.
Currently, the UDF controls 16 seats and the LDF just four. Though polls show that the LDF might make minor gains, Kerala seems like the one place where Congress (as part of the wider UDF) is most immune to an electoral breakdown.
Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) has historically fared very poorly in Kerala, which tilts much more to the left politically than the rest of India. It also has a relatively high proportion of Muslims (22.7%) among Kerala’s population. Although Modi and other top BJP leaders appeared in Kerala on the final day of the campaign, don’t expect to win any seats — if the BJP wins even one seat here, it will be a major breakthrough.
In the National Capital Territory of Delhi, where seven seats are up for grabs, it’s a three-way race among the BJP, Congress and the ascendant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, आम आदमी की पार्टी, Common Man Party). The AAP’s leader, Arvind Kejriwal, served as chief minister for 49 tumultuous days, from December 2013 until his resignation on February 14, when the Delhi legislative assembly refused to move forward with his anti-corruption Jan Lokpal bill.
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Though Congress currently controls all seven seats in Delhi, it is expected to lose nearly all of them — and it was similarly wiped out in the December local elections. That means that the fight here will likely be a draw between Kejriwal’s AAP and Modi’s BJP.
Kejriwal’s decision to resign as chief minister, however, may have lowered his popularity — especially as he’s neglected Delhi to build a national AAP campaign.
In the neighboring state of Haryana, the AAP is trying to break out, with little apparent success, against both the BJP and Congress. Though Congress currently holds nine of the state’s 10 seats, polls show that the BJP stands to win a majority of those seats.
In addition to Kerala, Delhi and Haryana, several states kick off their own campaigns, including some of the most consequential battlegrounds of the election:
- Uttar Pradesh, with 199.6 million residents, has the largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha (80). It will elect its first 10 representatives in the April 10 phase. Generally speaking, Uttar Pradesh is a four-way race among the BJP, Congress and two local regional parties. (Read Suffragio‘s preview of the race in Uttar Pradesh here). If Modi, the BJP and its allies are going to win a majority government, they’ll have to win at least half of the seats here.
- Maharashtra, with 112.4 million residents, is India’s wealthiest state. It encompasses Mumbai, India’s largest metropolis, and its Marathi-speaking hinterland. The race here is fairly straightforward — the BJP and its ally, the ultranationalist Shiv Sena (SS, शिवसेना) are competing directly against Congress and its respective ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP, राष्ट्रवादी कॉँग्रस पक्ष). The far-right, Marathi nationalist Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS, महाराष्ट्र नवनिर्माण सेना) could win a seat or two. Only 10 constituencies in Maharashtra will vote today, though the state’s 48 seats are, like in Uttar Pradesh, absolutely vital to the BJP’s hopes of winning a majority. Polls show that the BJP and Shiv Sena could win a cumulative 25 to 35 seats.
- In Bihar, India’s third-most populous state, six out of 42 constituencies will vote today. The state is most notable because its highly successful chief minister Nitish Kumar left the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) last summer in opposition to the BJP’s decision to elevate Modi as its prime ministerial candidate. Politically, that may have backfired for Kumar, whose governing Janata Dal (United) (JD(U), जनता दल (यूनाइटेड)) is forecast to lose many of its 20 Bihar-based Lok Sabha seats to the BJP as well as to Congress and other regional rivals.
- Madhya Pradesh, India’s sixth-most populous state, will elect nine out of 29 constituencies today. Located in India’s north-central heartland, the state features a relative straightforward BJP-Congress contest. In state elections for the legislative assembly in November 2013, the BJP’s chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan won a third consecutive term (like Modi, he’s seen as a future prime minister), expanding the BJP’s already solid hold on the state at Congress’s further expense. That makes it likely Congress will lose Lok Sabha seats to the BJP here as well.
- Odisha, along the central eastern coast, will elect 10 legislators today and another 11 in the fifth round. It will also simultaneously hold state elections for its legislative assembly. Both contests will be dominated by theBiju Janata Dal (BJD, ବିଜୁ ଜନତା ଦଳ), which currently holds 14 Lok Sabha seats nationally and whose leader, Naveen Patnaik, has been Odisha’s chief minister since 2001. The BJD left the NDA in 2009, though it might be one of the parties to which the BJP turns in the event that it doesn’t quite reach the 272-seat absolute majority it will need to govern.
- Jharkhand, also in northeastern India near Bihar and West Bengal, will elect the first four of 14 legislators.
- Chhattisgarh will elect just one of its 11 legislators.
- In the heavily disputed Jammu and Kashmir, the first of six constituencies, Jammu, will vote today.
- Three territories, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Chandigarh and Lakshadweep, will each elect their one representative. Polls show that the BJP could sweep the territories, too.
Photo credit to Raman Singh / Flickr.