It’s election day once again in India, and today marks the fifth phase of the nine-phase marathon to determine India’s national government. Indians today will elect 121 members of the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा). That makes today’s round, just barely, the most important of all nine phases. Together with the April 24 phase next week, Indians will choose 43% of the seats in the entire Lok Sabha in just two rounds of voting.
So what are the keys to the voting in today’s phase?
Here’s our trusty map of India’s states, as a reference point before we jump into the state-by-state breakdown:
The biggest prize is the south-central state of Karnataka, a state of over 61 million Indians, home to Bangalore and India’s high-tech sector. All of its 28 representatives to the Lok Sabha will be elected in today’s voting.
More than any other state in India, it’s been especially impermeable to the ‘Modi wave’ that polls predict will lift the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी) and its prime ministerial candidate, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, to power.
In the May 2013 state elections, the BJP lost control of the Karnataka state government, terminating the BJP’s historic first government in India’s south. The loss had less to do with Modi than with corruption and infighting within the state party. Nonetheless, the BJP was wiped out, losing 72 seats in the state assembly, and damaging its reputation in advance of this year’s national elections.
With the memories of the disastrous BJP state government still fresh, Karnataka could be the rare bright spot for India’s governing party, the Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस), which could pick up eight seats for a total of 14, according to the latest NDTV poll.
One of the marquee contests is in the Bangalore South constituency, where Congress’s candidate is Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekan, running against the BJP’s Ananth Kumar.
The BJP’s most impressive victory in last November’s state elections occurred in the arid, western state of Rajasthan, India’s eight-most populous state, where Congress lost 75 seats and the BJP gained 84 in the state’s legislative assembly. It was the BJP’s best-ever performance and Congress’s worst-ever performance.
So Modi has high hopes here, in a state that lies just north of his own home state of Gujarat — if the BJP runs away with this election and forms India’s next government, it will be largely because of the lopsided victories it’s expected to win here and elsewhere in India’s north.
Twenty constituencies, out of a total of 25, will vote in Rajasthan today, including the historic city of Jodhpur (pictured above).
An NDTV poll form earlier this week, based on interviews with 24,000 votes, predicts that the BJP will win 21 seats in Rajasthan, while Congress will win just three — that would amount to a 17-seat swing from Congress to the BJP.
India’s second-most populous state continues its election with an additional 19 constituencies today, following voting in the first 10 constituencies on April 10. Though the state’s anchor is Mumbai, the constituencies that comprise India’s largest metropolis won’t vote until April 24.
The race in Maharashtra is essentially a two-way fight, with the BJP and its ally, the ultranationalist Shiv Sena (SS, शिवसेना) 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) hopes to make a breakthrough as well.
The NDTV poll this week shows that the BJP and Shiv Sena could nearly double their seats here, surging from 17 to 37, leaving Congress and the NCP with just nine.
Ashok Chavan, a former chief minister of Maharashtra between 2008 and 2010, is attempting a comeback after resigning four years ago when his family members implicated him in a corruption scandal. He’s running in the Nanded constituency against the BJP incumbent DB Patil.
India’s current home minister, Congress’s Sushilkumar Shinde, is expected to retain his seat in Solapur constituency.
In the second of its two rounds of voting, Odisha will elect 11 of its 21 seats to the Lok Sabha. Though the regionally dominant Biju Janata Dal (BJD, ବିଜୁ ଜନତା ଦଳ) is likely to win most of Odisha’s 21 seats — it currently holds 14 — it will face a stronger challenge than normal from the BJP.
* * * * *
* * * * *
That dynamic is expected to play out in local elections as well — Odisha’s voters are also electing all 147 members of the state’s Legislative Assembly. Again, while the BJD is favored to retain control of government, and chief minister Naveen Patnaik is likely to win a fourth consecutive term in office, the BJP is waging a strong campaign.
Though the BJD is a secular, center-left party, it supported the BJP-led coalition from its foundation in 1997 until the 2009 election, so if the BJP falls short of an absolute majority, Patnaik might find himself with the power to make or break a potential BJP-led government.
Jharkhand is a relatively new state, formed in 2000 out of what was then the southern part of Bihar. With nearly 33 million people and much of India’s mineral wealth, it’s nudged between West Bengal and Bihar in India’s north, and it has some of the highest proportions of members of the disadvantaged ‘Scheduled Tribes’ and ‘Scheduled Castes’ entitled to special protections under India’s constitution. Six of the state’s 14 constituencies will vote today.
The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (झारखंड मुक्ति मोर्चा, Jhakrhand Liberation Front), a somewhat amorphous regional party, currently controls a minority government at the state level, though it’s worked in alliance with the BJP in the past.
Elsewhere in India, there’s still plenty of voting taking place today — and in a way that’s expected to reap major benefits for the BJP.
Madhya Pradesh, where nine constituencies voted in the April 10 round, will elect another 10 legislators today. The state is a huge potential prize for the BJP. It’s India’s sixth-most populous state, located in India’s north-central heartland, and there’s no regional party to distract from a direct BJP fight with Congress. The popular three-term BJP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan enlarged his mandate in last November’s state elections, and the latest NDTV poll from earlier this week forecasts that Modi and the BJP could sweep fully 26 out of 29 constituencies.
Uttar Pradesh, just to the north, and the largest prize of all with 80 seats in total, elected its first 10 legislators on April 10, and it will elect another 11 today — in fact, an increasing number of constituencies in Uttar Pradesh will vote in each of the remaining four phases through May 12.
You can read Suffragio‘s preview of the race in Uttar Pradesh here, but it’s chiefly a race among Congress, the BJP and two regional parties. This week’s NDTV poll showed that the BJP could win up to 51 seats. If it does so, it becomes easier and easier to imagine that the BJP will have enough strength to form a majority government with its allies.
Among the more notable constituencies voting today is Pilibhit, where Maneka Gandhi, the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi and the widow of the late Sanjay Gandhi, is expected to win the seat that she previously won five times as a BJP candidate, following a high-profile break with the Nehru-Gandhi family and Congress in the 1980s.
Seven more constituencies, out of 42 total, will vote in Bihar, India’s third-most populous state. Chief minister Nitish Kumar, who left the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) last summer, and his party, the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U), जनता दल (यूनाइटेड)) is struggling. The latest NDTV poll projects that Modi will power the BJP to double its strength in Bihar to 24, while the JD(U) is forecast to shrink from 20 seats to just four. Its fierce regional rival, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD, राष्ट्रीय जनता दल) of former chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, is also forecast to double its seats from six to 12.
West Bengal, the eastern state that is home to 91.4 million Indians, will elect the first four of 42 seats in India’s fourth-most populous state. The communist All India Trinamool Congress (TMC, সর্বভারতীয় তৃণমূল কংগ্রেস), currently the ruling party in West Bengal, under the leadership of chief minister Mamata Banerjee, is projected to win most of the state’s constituencies.
Three more constituencies, out of 11 total, will elect members in Chhattisgarh, another new state as of 2000. The BJP is, surprisingly, forecast to lose a couple of seats to Congress. Chhattisgarh’s first chief minister Ajit Jogi is running for Congress in the Mahasamund constituency in a bid to defeat the BJP incumbent Chandulal Sahu.
Tiny Manipur, one of the ‘seven sister’ states of India’s far northeast, with just 2.7 million residents, will elect its sole representative.
One more constituency, Udhampur, in the hotspot of Jammu and Kashmir, will also vote today. Ghulam Nabi Azad, the current health and family welfare minister, is contesting the seat.