In terms of seats, today’s phase of voting (in 117 constituencies) is only marginally less important than last week’s April 17 phase, in which 121 seats to the decided.
What’s more, after today’s voting, we’ll be well over the halfway mark of voting in all 543 constituencies of the Lok Sabha (लोक सभा) — following today’s phase, we’ll be 195 constituencies away from the end of what’s been the largest, longest election in Indian history.
So where are the key points in today’s round of voting?
The biggest prize is the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which elects all 39 of its Lok Sabha representatives today. It’s one of India’s most populous states, with over 72.1 million people, and it’s also one of India’s largest state economies, with its capital Chennai a primary manufacturing, services and financial hub.
Unfortunately for Narendra Modi, the frontrunner to become the next prime minister, and for Rahul Gandhi, who hopes to lead the current government to a third consecutive term in power, neither of India’s two national parties are expected to win very many votes here.
That’s because the two dominant blocs in Tamil politics since the 1960s have been ‘Dravidian’ parties — the DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, திராவிட முன்னேற்றக் கழகம், Dravidian Progress Federation) and the AIADMK (the ‘All India Anna’ DMK). As you might deduce, the AIADMK is a spinoff from the DMK. Originally established to promote an independent south India state and to address north-south inequality in political, economic and developmental power, the two parties today are essentially personal vehicles for their longtime leaders, the DMK’s Karunanidhi and the AIADMK’s Jayalalithaa.
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After the 2011 regional elections, Jayalalithaa and the AIADMK won a landslide victory, and it’s projected to win most of the Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu today.
Conversely, the DMK and Gandhi’s Indian National Congress (Congress, भारतीय राष्ट्रीय कांग्रेस) are expected to lose seats. Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (the BJP, भारतीय जनता पार्टी), which is leading a seven-party coalition among various minor Dravidian parties in the state, could make a breakthrough in traditionally inhospitable terrain.
But with the AIADNK set to win most of Tamil Nadu, it could become the third-largest party in the next Lok Sabha, which could make Jayalalithaa an important power-broker if Modi falls short of a 272-seat absolute majority.
For the record, the last BJP-AIADNK alliance ended in disaster when Jayalalithaa pulled her party’s support for the short-lived 1998-99 BJP government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, leading to snap elections in 1999.
Among the most highly visible contests is Nilgiris, where former communications minister Andimuthu Raja, a DMK politician, is hoping to retain his seat, despite his conviction in the 2G spectrum scandal.
Karti Chidambaram, the son of outgoing finance minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, is hoping to win his father’s constituency of Sivaganga, which the family first won in the 1984 elections.
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Again, for reference, before we move on, here’s the map of all of India’s states and territories:
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The second-biggest prize in today’s voting are the 19 remaining seats in Maharashtra, and today’s constituencies include all six of the seats in Mumbai, the largest city of India — home to some of India’s most fabulous wealth and also home to some of the world’s largest, poorest slums (including Dharavi slum pictured above). Congress (and its ally the NCP) is defending all six seats. For example, Milind Deora, a rising Congress star, and the current minister of information technology and communications, will be defending his constituency of Mumbai South.
Voters in the other 29 constituencies selected their MPs during the third phase on April 10 and the fifth phase on April 17.
It’s nonetheless India’s second-most populous state with 112.4 million people. As noted in prior posts, 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).
Far behind in third place is the far-right, Marathi nationalist Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS, महाराष्ट्र नवनिर्माण सेना).
Northern ‘Hindi’ Belt States
Voting will also take place in a broad swath of northern India today — all of these states have seen voting in previous rounds, and many of them will see voting in the final three rounds.
They include Uttar Pradesh (12 seats), Madhya Pradesh (10 seats), Bihar (7 seats), West Bengal (6 seats), Rajasthan (5 seats), and Jharkhand (4 seats).
In Rajasthan and in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP made strong gains in December 2013 regional elections, a harbinger that Modi will make equally strong national gains here as well. Together, the two states are home to over 141 million Indians and hold 54 cumulative seats in the Lok Sabha. Together with Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Delhi and Bihar, they comprise much of the great ‘Hindi belt.’ It’s in these states the BJP needs to steal many seats from Congress if it has any hope of winning a majority government. Sushma Swaraj, the BJP floor leader in the Lok Sabha (and potentially a future prime minister if coalition partners balk at the more controversial Modi), will be contesting the Vidisha constituency.
In Jharkhand, long a hotbed of India’s unique Maoist Naxalite insurgency, the BJP and Congress are competing against the regional Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM, झारखंड मुक्ति मोर्चा, Jharkhand Liberation Front), a leftist group that has nonetheless allied with the BJP in the past. The state itself was formed in 2000 from what used to be southern Bihar. It is home to 33 million Indians and it’s the source of a disproportionately high concentration of India’s mineral wealth.
In Bihar, where voting for all 40 constituencies is spread out over six different phases, chief minister Nitish Kumar, who leads the Janata Dal (United) (JD(U), जनता दल (यूनाइटेड)), is hoping to hold on against the BJP, despite leaving the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) last June when it became clear that the controversial Modi would lead the BJP’s campaign. It’s essentially a four-way race among the BJP, Congress, the JD(U) and the Bihar-based Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD, राष्ट्रीय जनता दल).
With 80 seats in total, Uttar Pradesh is the key to whether the BJP and its allies in the NDA will win merely a plurality victory or an absolute majority. Despite heady polls that show the BJP could win more than 50 seats here, it’s a tough four-way battle against the Congress Party, the governing Samajwadi Party (समाजवादी पार्टी, Socialist Party) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP, बहुजन समाज पार्टी), which is led by India’s most famous dalit political leader, former UP chief minister Mayawati.
Top SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, a longtime chief minister in Uttar Pradesh, and father of the current chief minister, is contesting the Mainpuri constituency that he first won in 1989. External affairs minister Salman Khurshid is hoping to retain his seat in the Farrukhabad constituency.
With just 25.5 million people, this is a somewhat smaller prize — its final seven constituencies (out of just 11) will vote in today’s phase. It’s one of the few regions where the BJP finds itself playing defense — it already holds 10 seats, and Congress hopes to poach a handful of seats from it.
It won’t be easy, because the BJP recently won reelection at the state level in November 2013. With a 98% Hindu population, it’s one It’s one of the most Hindu states the entire country.
It’s also a relatively recent state, created in 2000 from the eastern edge and southeastern tip of Madhya Pradesh. Though it produces much of central India’s steel and electricity, it’s a state with a relatively low standard of living. It, too, has been subject to recent Naxalite attacks in the past year.
In Assam, the northeastern state that elects 14 members, and where voting largely began in the initial April 7 phase, six constituencies will vote today. Like Chhattisgarh, Kerala and Karnataka, it’s one of the few places where Congress is projected to make gains.
Jammu and Kashmir, the most volatile of Indian states, will see voting solely in the Anantnag constituency.
Puducherry, a territory in southeast India that used to form the basis of French India, will also elect it sole representative to the Lok Sabha today, where the incumbent V. Narayanasamy faces a strong fight from regional parties, including the AIADMK.
Photo credit to Meanest Indian / Flickr.