Never say never in elections

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Never say never in elections

There is no Modi wave this time around

By Allan Jacob (Reporting from Delhi)

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Published: Tue 14 May 2019, 12:05 AM

Will the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi be ousted from power after these elections?
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi thought so on Sunday and said people were "angry and distressed". They had expressed their resentment with the government through their votes, she said after casting her ballot with husband Robert Vadra in the penultimate phase of elections that covered seven seats in Delhi.
It's true there is no Modi wave this time around. People don't resent him either. However, there are reservations about his party that is seen by people as being overtly aggressive both during this campaign and in governance.
I spoke to many voters at polling stations who felt corruption had come down under this government. They were also pleased that India's international clout and stature had risen under Modi.
What matters most 
Their concerns were about local problems that were yet to be fixed - water, power, sanitation, pollution, education and security - not necessarily in that order. Politicians tend to view elections from the limited prism of states and the centre. Most have failed to grasp the basics in their pitch to win popularity tests every five years.
But people are talking, they are demanding answers from their elected representatives at the ward, municipality, state and central level. "We want access to people we vote for," is their refrain. In the final stretch of the elections, I get the feeling that Indian voters have found they voice. They think, they ponder, and it's okay to change their mind in the voting booth in their bid to take non-performing politicians to the cleaners.
One young voter pointed to the garbage problems in New Delhi where Ajay Maken of the Congress and sitting MP Meenakshi Lekhi are contesting from. I saw trash piling up as municipality vehicles were late to collect them as it was a Sunday. Open drains, public toilets without water, safety of women were all high on the list of concerns. But people in this area, most of them migrants from the neighbouring states cope, they make do and hope their big city dreams will be fulfilled one day, some day.
I met a physically challenged man who was helped to his chair by a security official. He voted AAP and said the party had given him a life of dignity. These are the voices I came to listen to during the poll season and they filled me with hope. These are the folk who wage daily battles for their daily bread; they will not allow themselves to be victims of despair.
One voter spoke of his family coming all the way from Pakistan back in 1947 and how the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 shattered their faith in the Indian state's ability to protect them.
"We have moved on, even forgiven the perpetrators, but people in my community will never forget the way they (the Congress) let us burn in 1984," said Harekas Singh, who I met over chai last evening. "I have no anger against the Congress, but I will vote for their opponents," he said. This morning, he insisted that I accompany him on his ride to the polling station. He was proud to do his duty for young India. "I wish we could fulfil our potential as a country," were his parting words.
On the politicians, who I intend to make a side-show of, Ajay Maken, the Congress candidate, said his party had an ace up their sleeve, and would win all seven seats in the state.
Meanwhile, Parvesh Verma of the BJP, said he was 100 per cent certain of winning in West Delhi, a Sikh stronghold.
In East Delhi, Atishi Marlena fought an issue-based campaign based on her good work on the ground. Her entire campaign was crowd-funded and it was refreshing to follow her on the trail. She was the most honest and convincing candidate that I had come across during these elections. She had set her priorities right, and proved it with her education initiative that the people of Delhi are raving about.
Ground predictions 
Finally, let me sign off with more predictions, so bear with me. This won't take long, I promise. I am basing my forecast after talking to independent journalists, aides to politicians, activists, development workers, ministers and the biggest winners of these elections: the voters.
One group said the BJP would win 230 seats. Allies of the party would mop up another 30. Post-poll arrangements led by Amit Shah's trick-and-treat fiesta could fetch them another 12 to go past the 272 mark for a simple majority.
Another group lowered the figures to 200 for the BJP and 20 for other parties comprising the NDA, which could nix a second term for PM Modi.
I've said this before and I'll say it again. If history is any indication, the Congress came from behind to pull off a miraculous victory in 2004. Silent voters could swing to the Congress. Then, there's a federal front in the making. 
In Indian politics, it's best to say, never say never. One never knows.
allan@khaleejtimes.com



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