India goes to polls- Voters cast vote in 91 Constituencies in the First Phase

Voters line up at a polling station

NEW DELHI (TIP): Polling for 91 constituencies was held in the first of the seven phases on April 11. The BJP  is defending 32 seats. Of  these, 16 were in the crucial Hindi heartland — Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Bihar — states that the saffron party swept in the 2014 elections, riding high on the Modi “wave”.

Political observers believe that the “situation as on date is open-ended”. In case the BSP-SP-RLD ‘Mahagathbandhan’  manages to upset the BJP applecart in the eight western UP seats of phase-1, it could cause serious damage to the party.

In Maharashtra which almost witnessed a one-sided contest in 2014 with the BJP and ally Shiv Sena sweeping it all, the saffron party in Phase 1 polling  defended five seats.

However, a reverse situation in states like West Bengal and Odisha — where the BJP is hoping to strike gains to offset expected losses from the Hindi heartland — can help it consolidate gains from these uncharted terrains.

The general belief is that polling trends and feedback from phase-1 will be carried forward, setting the tone in other phases. This may happen not just in that particular state but adjoining areas as well.

Notably, all political parties and independent observers collect and analyses trends after the polling gets over,  for their reference.

In addition to the three of the 42 seats it currently holds in Telangana and Andhra, the BJP was  defending 29 out of the remaining 49 seats, the majority being in Bihar, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. In 2014, the BJP scored a perfect five in Uttarakhand.

On the other hand, the Congress hoped for winds of change to blow and for history to repeat itself.

“Do not forget 2004,” UPA chairperson and former Congress President Sonia Gandhi said today when asked if she thinks Prime Minister Narendra Modi is invincible.

“Not at all, don’t forget 2004,” she said as Congress president Rahul Gandhi began his day with an appeal to the voters to “vote wisely, for the soul of India and for the country’s future.”

The Congress for its part does not have much to defend in the first phase of elections except seven Lok Sabha segments — two in Telangana, one each in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur and Mizoram.

But the party is hoping for the grand alliance of BSP-SP and RLD to make gains in the politically significant western UP belt where the BJP holds all eight seats that went to polls in the first phase today.

“The BJP is in for surprises,” said a senior Congress leader hoping that the less than impressive poll percentages today could cut any which way. “This could be the result of voter disenchantment. The PM had issued multiple appeals for people to turn out and vote in large numbers. The percentages so far look fair, not extraordinary,” said a Congress leader.

The party hopes to improve its electoral base in Andhra Pradesh where it drew a blank in the last Lok Sabha elections. Of the 25 Andhra parliamentary seats, the TDP holds 17, the Congress none. Along with LS, Andhra Assembly polls also took place today with the Congress hoping for a presence in the Assembly. The party has still not recovered from the post Andhra Pradesh bifurcation shock which decimated it in both Andhra and newly created Telangana.

“We hope to make gains now considering this election has taken place for the first time since reorganization and Congress president is committed to a special category status to Andhra as promised by the former PM Manmohan Singh,” says MM Pallam Raju, Congress leader in Andhra.

The Congress may also look for seats that witnessed polls in Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya and west UP today. In Uttarakhand, all five LS seats are with the BJP and the lone Chhattisgarh seat of Bastar where polling concluded today is also with the BJP.

Congress hopes that BJP’s losses in today’s polls will translate into direct or indirect gains for the Opposition. That explains Sonia Gandhi’s 2004 pitch when the coalition of anti-BJP parties she stitched successfully formed a government at the Centre as the BJP harped in “India Shining”.

(Source: The Tribune, Chandigarh)

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