DC Edit | As voting begins today, EC needs to keep tight vigil

Indians will start their long march to elect the 18th Lok Sabha and to decide whether a government should be given a chance a third time with voters in 102 of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies voting today. As many as 21 states and Union territories will be involved in the first of the seven-phase exercise.

The battle lines have been drawn in a much better fashion this time than they were in the 2019 election. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, would look emaciated numerically with several allies leaving it in the meantime but its core structure and ideological strength remain intact. The Opposition platform has got a better shape this time with the formation of the Indian National Democratic Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc with 41 parties, though it also has experienced its early shocks with the defection of the JD(U), one of its founding members. Another major participant, the Trinamul Congress, is fighting the elections on its own, even while remaining part of the platform.

The NDA started its campaign propelled by Mr Modi and his guarantees related to the economy and social welfare but soon shifted gears and brazenly embraced Hindutva. Incessant attacks on the Opposition leaders on their absence at the consecration of the Ram temple in Ayodhya have been a pet theme of the BJP leaders including Mr Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah; they even asked people to punish the Opposition for this so-called “sin”.

The party was on the defensive after the revelations related to electoral bonds dented the credibility of its anti-corruption posturing. The fear of repercussions after the arrest of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal could also have contributed to its worries, forcing it to go back to the Hindutva theme. Given that the BJP has the best organisational machinery and can boast of some of the most efficient communicators in its ranks, the NDA still remains confident.

The INDIA bloc which wasted precious time fighting the October-November Assembly elections as a divided entity learned some bitter lessons and has been able to put up a united front against the NDA in most key states for the Lok Sabha polls. The Congress indeed took the leadership in cobbling the alliance together, and save in West Bengal and Punjab, INDIA bloc partners are in harmony. That the NDA will be facing a united Opposition in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Maharashtra could make the electoral battle an interesting one.

The Election Commission of India has quite the task on its hand. It has kept up its vigil against practices that have an impact on the electoral process. That the enforcement agencies have made a record seizure of Rs 4,650 crores in cash points to the alertness of the system, though it will be an insignificant portion of the real sum involved. What, however, bothers the advocates of fair elections is the inaction on the part of the EC against political leaders who in flagrant violation of the law and the Model Code of Conduct, canvass votes in the name of religion. The ECI must stand firm against all forces that vitiate the entire process and wreck the idea of a level playing field. We demand a free and fair election.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle )
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