Indian General elections 2019 schedule
The world's largest democracy will hold parliamentary elections this month. The elections are conducted in 7 stages from April 11 to May 23rd. Phase 1 of the elections were completed on April 11th. 900 million people are eligible to vote, including 84 million first-time voters, in 1 million polling booths supervised by 11 million personnel for 543 parliamentary seats. 130 parties fielded more than 8000 candidates. Incumbent Prime minister Narendra Modi is expecting to retain his position, while opposition party (Congress lead UPA) that won 10 times out of the last 15 Lok Sabha elections (since independence) is hoping to reverse their abysmal 2014 performance. A record amount of money ($US 7 to 9 billion) is expected to be spent on this years election making it costlier than last US presidential election.

While the Ruling Hindu nationalist BJP coalition (NDA) hopes to showcase Modi's reforms during the last 5 years and highlight his tough stance on national security, the opposition parties are trying to take advantage of weak unemployment figures, anti-incumbency trends and attempt to cast Modi as corrupt with slogans like 'Chowkidar Chor Hai' (watchman is a thief) which is a reverse of the rhetoric Modi used to portray himself as a "Chowkidar" (a watchman or gatekeeper). Like a Bollywood movie, Indian elections contain a lot of emotion, pomp, drama, music and color.

Role of Money in Elections

Elections in India are indeed routinely conducted as festivals, of unaccounted cash. Self-financed candidates compete for party seats, electoral victories and political fortunes that make them powerful and rich. Political parties prefer wealthy and celebrity candidates to finance the vast campaigns that aim at wooing the hundreds of millions of voters.
Mass election rallies Indian 2019 election

Mass election rallies of congress Party (L) and BJP (R)
Vast amounts of money is spent on party literature, advertisements, mass rallies, social media, bribing the voters (with cash and many forms of goods like Jewelery, Sarees, Alcohol, food, laptops, blenders, even goats in remote regions) to influence voter decisions. Sometimes, this competition even leads to violence.


Indian Income tax authorities raided the homes and offices of aides of congress Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh confiscating a large amount of money. The raid resulted in a storm of accusations regarding misuse of power and witch-hunts. Last week, income tax raids on the premises of the DMK party (BJP Ally) in the southern state of Tamil Nadu resulted in the recovery of nearly of €2.5 million in cash packed in plastic containers with names of a district constituency marked on them. Ahead of India's general election, the Indian Election Commission reported numerous seizures of cash, illegal liquor and drugs from political parties across the country. The total value is estimated at 14.6 billion rupees (€200 million).

Most of the financing comes from movable assets. Most of the spending isn't publicly disclosed. While candidates have a legal expenditure cap, parties can spend unrestricted amounts. The biggest national parties declared a combined income of just 13 billion rupees ($195 million) for the year through March 2018. The ruling BJP is the major beneficiary of the donations from various legal and illegal sources.
The CMS projection marks a 40 percent jump from the $5 billion estimated to have been spent during India's 2014 parliamentary vote. And it amounts to roughly $8 spent per voter in a country where about 60 percent of the population lives on around $3 a day.
Where is the money coming from?

Opaque financing of Indian political parties continues, despite an income declaration requirement, and although the election commission has suggested an expenditure limit on candidates, currently there is no cap on the amount a political party can spend in an election or on a candidate.

Major contenders spend huge sums far exceeding suggested thresholds with heavy expenses on promoting candidates with cash gifts and alcohol.

"The rise of self-financing candidates in India is worrying," said Nikhil Dey of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), an election watchdog. He said that candidates were chosen by small groups of party insiders who also bankrolled the parties.

According to various estimates, the 2019 general election will cost about $8.5 to 9 billion, almost double the expenditures in the last general election. In comparison, the 2015 off-year US election and the 2016 US presidential election had a combined price tag of $ 6.5 billion, according to US federal regulators.
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Pollsters and analysts are claiming that a recently launched electoral bond scheme opens the door to legalized money laundering because it allows businesses and individuals to anonymously donate to political parties.

"Under electoral bonds, neither the recipients or donors names are disclosed. How can it improve transparency? Money comes from dubious sources," Jagdeep Chhokar of ADR told DW.

Activists say the voting public will never know which individual, company or organization has funded which party, and to what extent.
Social media Campaign methods

Hashtags wars, Party merchandise distribution for the pledge to vote, facebook, Instagram messages, fake opinion results, targeted whatsapp campaigns based on the information gathered from "data providers" - are all new methods political parties are using to influence the elections. Indian politicians are expected to spend Rs 5,000 crore ($US 720 million) on social media, up from Rs 250 crore in 2014. To counter this epidemic, facebook took down around 700 pages for showing "coordinated inauthentic behavior", associated with various political parties, from its site. All political parties use social media, though the ruling BJP who pioneered this social media approach in 2014 elections is ahead of the curve and taking it to the next level. Whatsapp limited the number of Indian users which a message can be sent to, going from 20 people down to 5 people.
Whatsapp elections?

At the time of the last national polls in 2014, just 21% of Indians owned a smartphone; by 2019, that figure is thought to have nearly doubled to 39%. And for most of them, WhatsApp is the social media app of choice - by one count, more than 90% of smartphone users have it installed. In recognition of that shift, the BJP's social media chief declared 2019 the year of India's first "WhatsApp elections."
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TIME spoke to a former BJP employee who described activity that evokes reminders of that scandal. Shivam Shankar Singh, 25, worked in data analytics for the BJP between Aug. 2016 and Apr. 2018. He alleges the party has collected reams of personal data to classify voters and add them to different group chats based on their location, socioeconomic status, age - and in a strategy that could prove explosive, religion and caste too. (He does not accuse the BJP of any illegal activity.)
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Sinha says the problem is that political parties have vast resources, allowing them to overcome messaging limits with pure manpower. Basu, the researcher, agrees. "The way we communicate in family or friend WhatsApp groups is very different compared to groups run for political messaging," she says. "It's almost like an industry. Spreading messages is incentivized." In some cases, workers get paid for forwarding messages, Basu says. In others, they do it "just to wield a little bit of local influence."
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The ruling BJP is also using creative means to target users with tailored messaging, according to Singh. (Given India's lax data protection regulations, these are not necessarily illegal.) "We started out with a digitized copy of the electoral roll," Singh tells TIME. "Then there are data brokers in the country who will just sell you the phone records for an entire region."

A BJP spokesperson denied that the party had ever bought phone numbers, but did confirm that group chats were being created using phone numbers voluntarily offered up to it. "We've got a volunteer base of around 120 million," the spokesperson said. "Why would we engage in doing this kind of thing? We don't need to."
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The BJP is not the only party using group chats, but it pioneered their use and still has more groups than its competitors, according to academics who have been following the phenomenon since it began in around 2013. "All political parties are playing the same game now," says Sangeeta Mahapatra, a visiting fellow at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies. "Congress are also doing it," she says, referring to the BJP's main opposition party at the national level. "But it all depends on resources. One thing we know is that Congress is cash-strapped compared to the BJP. And the BJP has a huge volunteer force."
Election Manifestos

On April 8th, the ruling BJP released its manifesto with an emphasis on nationalism. It promised to remove Article 370 which provides special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Reinforcing Border security, welfare to soldiers, combating infiltration, and a zero-tolerance approach to terrorism and national security are other items in the manifesto. It also includes the doubling of farmers income, building Ram Mandir - a Hindu holy site - (a promise that it failed to implement before) and improving the infrastructure. The Congress party promised the world's largest minimum income guarantee scheme that would benefit 20% of poor people with a minimum income of Rs.6000 ($87) per month. Its promises include the minority improvement, social justice and farmer welfare and media reforms. The Secular Congress party also offered to review article 370 that maintains special status for Jammu & Kashmir. Former J&K chief minister, a former alliance partner of the BJP, warned of severe repercussions in the region if Article 370 is repealed.

Election Commission and Model Code of Conduct:

There has been complaints of violation of the election commission's Model code of conduct. These complaints include Modi's announcement of India's successful testing of a satellite destroying Missile program called "Mission Shakti" on the first day of commencement of the Model code of conduct. The debut of a TV channel (on March 30 2019) dedicated to Modi (NaMo TV) is also controversial due to a lack of transparency around the ownership of the channel. Opposition parties criticized the Indian government for not blocking a biopic movie that is based on Narendra Modi's life that was expected to be released in 38 countries on the first day of the election in 3 languages (April 11 2018). On April 8th, the Indian supreme court refused to block the release of the controversial movie saying "it is a waste of court's time".


But on April 10th, the election commission, shaking off its paper tiger image, stopped the release of the movie and banned the NaMo TV channel dedicated to promoting Narendra Modi until the elections are over.

Terrorist Attack in Kashmir, Indo-Pak Confrontation
and Politics of Nationalism

On February 14, terrorists attacked a convoy of Indian security personnel in Jammu and Kashmir killing 42 people. Pakistan-based militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed claimed responsibility for the attack. This event evoked widespread condemnation from world leaders and public outrage from the Indian political establishment and public alike. On Feb 18th, Indian forces claimed that they killed two terrorists and two supporters in a Jammu & Kashmir anti-terrorism encounter operation including one Pakistani national Abdul Rasheed Ghazi alias Kamran, who was identified as a Pakistani national and considered the mastermind of the attack and a commander of the terrorist group Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM). This resulted in the instant calming of the public outrage and calls for revenge that had brewing since the attack. Opposition parties accused Modi of appropriating nationalistic sentiments.

During the early morning hours of February 26th, twelve Mirage 2000 jets of the Indian Air Force crossed the Line of Control and dropped bombs into Balakot, Pakistan claiming that they eliminated 300 to 350 JeM Terrorists. Pakistan claimed that there was no damage from the attack and retaliated the next day by downing an Indian military jet and capturing the pilot. Pakistan released the pilot on March 1st. The ruling BJP party celebrated this release with 'Abhinandan day' and other nationalistic rhetoric. The Indian opposition party demanded proof of the damage from the Indian attack, but backtracked its demand in view of nationalistic sentiments. The media questioned the government decision to arouse public sentiments in view of the release of the pilot.

Did Modi and the ruling BJP party benefit from the stand off with Pakistan in order to bolster his 56-inch chest image? The answer is, 'it depends'. Modi does seem to have consolidated his position in his traditional stronghold of Hindi heartland states. The opposition party chief minister of south Indian state of Karnataka (where BJP has a big presence) declared that 'Modi got all 28 parliamentary seats from Karnataka with the attack on Pakistan'. The attacks have not had much impact in other south Indian states and North East regions. According to India Today Opinion polls at the time, the 'Pakistan problem' was the 2nd most talked about issue among voters (20%) after the attack, but its impact had disappeared from voters minds within 2 weeks.

In the twists and turns of the politics of Nationalism, Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan opined that the re-election of Modi will help resolve the Indo-Pak issues. The leader of the AIMIM party, Asaduddin Owaisi, who relied heavily on the Muslim Vote Bank in the state of Telangana, responded to Pakistani PM saying he has no right to interfere in Indian electoral politics.

Modyfication

In 2014, Modi's BJP won a landslide majority for the first time since Independence under the Modi "Hawa" (Wave). Modi is considered to be a rare politician who is always on the campaign trail. True to his prachaarak (a person appointed to propagate a cause through personal contact, meetings, public lectures, etc) roots, he tried to reform the nation with a long list of initiatives and slogans that created a lexicon in itself. Since he became the prime minister, Modi has tried systematically to change many sectors of Indian society, making the country more attractive to foreign investors, and the government more accountable in many sectors of the society. He tried to make the financial transactions of civilians more transparent by making the Aadhar card (the Indian version of Social Security Number card) mandatory and creating bank accounts for 1 billion people and trying to link every transaction to the Aadhar card. He made it easier for Indians and foreigners alike to do business with India by replacing a decades-old convoluted old tax system (GST). This undoubtedly improved India's image as a global player.


Demonitization helped or hurt?


Modi's biggest gamble of his tenure has been the demonetization of widely used currency denominations (Rs. 500 and Rs.1000) on the same day the United States elected Donald Trump as their president. Indian Citizens were given the choice to deposit their money in a bank account, but any amount more than 250,000 rupees required an explanation of the source and was subjected to taxation. The operation resulted in unexpected glitches and short term disruption of the economy, long delays at ATM's, banks and other physical inconveniences. The average class citizen supported the move as a way to curtail the decades-old epidemic of black money. He was rewarded with huge electioral victories in 6 states following demonitization in 2017. There are reports, however, that the project has failed to eliminate black money from the elections and all the black money came back into circulation and hurt the poor more than others.
The November 8, 2016, demonetisation exercise- less than six months before elections took place in five states, including the most politically significant one, Uttar Pradesh - was seen by many at the time as a decisive step towards weeding out corruption from elections. But ground reports from successive elections since indicate that demonetisation failed to free Indian politics and governance from the politician-businessman nexus. "If you look at the 2017 Uttar Pradesh election, cash seizures increased threefold," says Vaishnav.

On April 30, in the run-up to the Karnataka assembly poll, an EC release said that the probe wing of the state income tax department had seized Rs 19.69 crore in cash, four times what the agencies had seized in the 2013 state election. In May 2016, in an unprecedented move, the EC was forced to rescind the poll notification for two assembly constituencies in Tamil Nadu, where EC officials reported large-scale distribution of money and gifts to electors. Again, in April 2017, the EC cancelled the bypoll in RK Nagar constituency in Chennai amidst allegations that the state health minister may have distributed cash to voters.

According to a CMS report, the Karnataka assembly election in May this year was the most expensive state poll ever held in the country. Political parties and their candidates spent Rs 9,500-10,500 crore, more than twice the expenditure in the 2013 state poll. The figures seem even starker when you consider the Union budget allocation for the Digital India programme: a mere Rs 3,073 crore, besides Rs 10,000 crore for the creation and augmentation of telecom infrastructure, the backbone of a digital economy.
In December 2018, Modi's fortunes started failing with narrow losses in the states of Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, narrow wins in his own state of Gujarat and anti-incumbency losses in another 2 states.

A Growing Economy But Not Enough Jobs
The country has surged up the ranks of the world's largest economies and is on track to displace the United Kingdom from fifth spot in 2019, according to data from the International Monetary Fund. India's gross domestic product is forecast to be nearly $1 trillion bigger this year than it was in 2014. Only the United States, China, Japan and Germany can boast a larger GDP. Now the BJP wants to boost GDP to $5 trillion by 2025, from $2.9 trillion projected for this year. That would allow India to overtake Germany to become the fourth biggest economy. If all goes according to plan, GDP should then rise to $10 trillion by 2032, surpassed only by the United States and China.

Under Modi, GDP per capita has also risen from $1,600 in 2014 to a projected $2,200 in 2019 - an increase of more than 35%. The country's rise has bolstered its status as a key global market for several industries eager to access its enormous population, increased spending power, and relatively open economy.

Fluctuating growth

The most keenly-watched metric since Modi came to office has been the pace of India's growth. India overtook China as the world's fastest-growing major economy in 2015, and except for a brief period in 2017, it has held that position ever since.But there has been a sharp deceleration in the last couple of years, with the biggest hit to growth resulting from some of Modi's signature reforms.
Indias growth 2014-2019
© CNN
He stunned the country in November 2016 by abruptly banning the two biggest banknotes in circulation, making 86% of the country's cash worthless at a stroke. While the stated goal was to crack down on illegal funds and move India towards a more digital future, the move wreaked havoc in the cash-dependent economy and brought several sectors to a halt. A massive overhaul of India's tax system a few months later hit the economy even harder, as businesses still reeling from the cash ban struggled to cope with the changeover.The economy had rebounded strongly by the beginning of last year, but growth has since slumped from 8.2% to 6.6%.

Rising unemployment

The government has also disappointed many with its performance on jobs. India needs to create more than 10 million every year just to keep pace with the growth in its working age population. India has not released official employment data for several years, and the fact that more than 80% of its economy is informal makes it difficult to tell whether Modi has managed to keep his promise. The Indian government canceled the planned release of its latest labor survey in February. But the numbers it reportedly contained paint a grim picture. The Business Standard newspaper said it had obtained a copy of the survey that showed unemployment at its highest rate in 45 years{ at 6.1%}
Major issues and Opinion Polls

According to Times of India February 2019 poll, Modi continues to enjoy public popularity with 83% of voters expecting him to win the upcoming elections while 80% consider his performance as 'good' or above. The major issues in voter's minds (as of February 2019) are jobs and farmer distress.
Times Mega Poll Feb 2019 Results
© Times of India
#TimesMegaPoll Feb 2019 Results
According to, India Today PSE polls (as of April 8th 2019) suggest Narendra Modi will likely come back to the power with reduced majority.
Modi to pwoer 2019 probability
© My-Axis-India