18 and excited to cast your vote? Or a seasoned eligible voter who has been there, done that? The Indian Lok Sabha Elections 2019 have some interesting and eye-popping moments for a newbie as well as for the most jaded of voters.

900 M eligible voters – 8,000 candidates – 6 weeks – 7 phases – 543 constituencies – 29 states and 7 union territories – 10 lakh polling booths – count of VVPAT slips from 20,625 EVMs – 2.62 billion rupees from India’s central exchequer allocated to the Election Commission of India (ECI) – perhaps the world’s largest election carnival is pitched in the largest democracy in the world from April 11th to May 19th, 2019.

lok sabha election 2019
Announcement of General Elections 2019
Image Courtesy: Elections Commission of India

A 100-m dash for some, a marathon for most, India’s Lok Sabha Elections 2019 has raised the temperature across the country. With the political parties jumping into the fray with all their might, their political PR and marketing blitzkrieg in the safe hands of multiple marketing and media-buying agencies, how can the citizens of the country remain mute bystanders?

Brands have been painstakingly built – NaMo, RaGa, PriGa, Didi, Anna, Behenji, Muffler Man, CBN, KCR…. they are not just floating buzzwords.

With a medley of electronic, print and radio media – it has been a roller-coaster ride for Indian politicians. Twitter wars, Facebook campaigns, Instagram photos, Google SEOs, LinkedIn updates, WhatsApp stories, crowdsourcing of slogans, TV channels, newspapers, election retailing, interviews, podcasts and town halls – a leaf taken out of the corporate world or is it the other way around?

Lawyers, educationists, bureaucrats, bankers, philanthropists, chaiwalas, actors, industrialists, cricketers, journalists, royalty, farmers, teachers… have all entered the elections fray.

With some startups jumping right into the thick of things with their enterprising party ‘Team’ rompers for ‘infants’ (catching them young) to customized clothing for the older generation, ‘Trust’ tees for youth to ‘saris’ for women – fashionable (election-themed) clothing has seen distinct trends. New business opportunities were identified with political parties based accessories and cool merchandise getting dearer with a 30% jump in price. The soaring demand from ‘political workers and supporters’ for such specialized wares has been adding to the country’s wealth.
Source: Times of India

Trains to buses, planes to helicopters, cars to rickshaws, bicycles to motorcycles, ‘padayatras’ – a range of transportation modes have been in use to reach the ‘aam janta’. Temperatures soaring? Not to wory, just get a body-double.

Colleges have become the new playground for some politicians.

Along the way, we were introduced to new terminology (which may soon make it to the Oxford Dictionary) – ‘Main bhi Chowkidhar’ par aap hain kaun? ‘Ab Hoga NYAY’ aur pehle hota tha anyay? Woh hai ‘Naamdar’ aur hum hain ‘imandar’.

And to a new language which is different from the expected parliamentary code of ethics – out-of-line statements, blame games, unchecked discourses,…

The topics for rallies were aplenty – apps to ships, strikes to conflicts, holidays to fashion, mangoes to gifts, we heard it all.

Spin on the currency, financial deals, income raids, surgical strikes, ship rides, degrees, citizenships, criminal records and judicial enquiries were some of the other hot topics churned in the various cauldrons of campaign trails.

Employment & education, farmer issues, health & sanitation, environment, law & justice, rising prices, poverty & alleviation, safety & security, economic fragility, investment & GDP, industrialization & development, housing & infrastructure, water, power, air, fuel & gas, research, innovation and Intellectual Property (IP), automation, trade & international barriers, etc… issues of national importance – have been relatively downplayed.

But voters have their own considerations while voting. Surveys by Pew Research, Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and Times Now, which queried 2.7 lakh people, said employment is the top priority for voters.
Source: Economic Times

We took off with ‘Made in India’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Startup india’ but soon enough, cast the net wider to catch ‘Citizen of Canada’, ‘Born in England’, ‘Resident of Italy’… we were generous enough to involve other countries in our democratic process.

20 years post their introduction in India, Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) glitches and their proportion to Voter-verified Paper Audit Trails (VVPATs) is still causing angst.

From giving non-political interviews to blame-gaming all and sundry, to raking up decades old issues to throwing allegations at each other, name calling and family bashing, these elections have witnessed political speeches with gloves on all hands. Some have been wearing boxing gloves (‘puri taraf maidan mein vutarke’), some put on gloves of velvet (‘touch-me-nots’ and ‘loftier-than-thous’) while others wore gloves of white (‘hamne kuch nahin kiya’).

Programs and manifestos are no more cast in stone for the larger good of the general public – they can be reset as easily as a chameleon changes colours – in direct response to the opposition’s antics.

And the Moral Code of Conduct as announced by ECI has given opportunity to varied interpretations and several violations.
Source: Election Commission of India

Winks and hugs, namaskars and kisses, waves and handshakes – beyond social media, voters have been witness to a strong bonding not just with the public but among the politicians as well.

Political biopics to politicians’ biographies – interesting stories have been narrated this season.

Actors rapping and interviewing, singers tweeting, channels having kids lisping, corporates advertising (CSR) – everyone is riding the election bandwagon and urging the eligible to go out there and vote.

As per the Centre for Media Studies (CMS), New Delhi, this year’s elections will cost an unprecedented Rs 50,000 crore ($7 billion), i.e. a steep jump of 40% from the 2014 elections. And this is being orchestrated in a country where around 60% of the population lives on approximately Rs 210 ($3) a day but we are merrily spending Rs 560 ($8) per voter on the elections.
Source: Economic Times

India’s official limits on election spending is capped at Rs 50 lakh-Rs 70 lakh per Lok Sabha candidate (and Rs 20 lakh- Rs 28 lakh per assembly candidate), depending on the state but what would be the actual (unofficial) budget – perhaps 30x-50x of the capped amount?
Source: Money Control

lok sabha election 2019
Image Courtesy: ECI Press Note: March 10, 2019

Where is this money coming from? Taxpayers, stashed funds and/or business houses?

As per a Bloomberg report, “…has spearheaded moves to loosen campaign finance laws in India…The new rules let corporations, including those partly owned by foreign entities, fund elections anonymously. They also permit businesses to bankroll political parties through opaque instruments called electoral bonds and enable shell companies to be conduits for election funding.”
Source: Money Control

The 2019 Indian general election is being held in 7 phases from April 11 to May 19, 2019, to constitute the 17th Lok Sabha in India. Members of Parliament (MPs) will be elected with a first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system from single-member constituencies for 543 (out of the 545) seats in the Lok Sabha. Source: Loksabha.nic.in

A party will have to attain 272 seats for a majority – the ground is open as parties are also looking to optimize their chances with various alliances.

Which candidate will make it to the finish line? Which party will get the majority? Will the majority be enough to form the ‘assembly of people’ (Lok Sabha)? The ground is set for gathbandhan and federal front, secret partnerships and some known coalitions.

The Big Battle is on! May 23rd is the day of reckoning – not just for the candidates and parties, but for the citizens of India!

Are we voting from strength? Are we voting wisely? Are we voting thoughtfully and impartially keeping the country’s best interests at heart? Or is it TINA (There Is No Alternative)? for the voters?

We’ll know soon enough!

A diligent citizen, nature enthusiast, occasional blogger, avid reader, and sporadic photographer; Kolla Krishna Madhavi likes to express her personal views with a dash of mirchi ka tadka. With 20+ years of corporate WEX, including the more recent stints at IIIT-H and Google, Madhavi opted to write full-time. She can be reached at poweryourcontent@gmail.com

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