142 million voters go to polls today in 20 states— here’s a look at the key issues in every state

142 million voters go to polls today in 20 states—  here’s a look at the key issues in every state

Narendra Modi’s bid for a second straight term as India’s Prime Minister gets underway today.

His main challenger is Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who is looking for redemption after a humbling loss in 2014 that saw it secure a record low of 44 seats. However, he was bolstered by a renewed sense of confidence from three state election victories in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan - all of which were BJP states - at the end of last year.

With 900 million voters -- 10% more than five years ago-- taking part in the country’s seventeenth general elections - 84 million of which are estimated to be first-time voters - this is the world’s largest democratic exercise.

Voters in 91 constituencies across 20 states and Union Territories will head to polls in the first week. Around 1,279 candidates are contesting polls in the first phase, 7% of which are women.

The major states in this phase are Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, where a joint total of 42 seats will be up for grabs.

Andhra Pradesh (voting in 25 out of 25 seats)

There are 319 candidates contesting in the first and only phase of voting in the state. The major parties in the fray are Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the YSR Congress (YSRC).

The constituencies are Aruku, Srikakulam, Vizianagaram, Visakhapatnam, Anakapalli, Kakinada, Amalapuram, Rajahmundry, Narsapuram, Eluru, Machilipatnam,Vijayawada, Guntur, Narasaraopet, Bapatla, Ongole, Nandyal, Kurnool, Anantapur, Hindupur, Kadapa, Nellore, Tirupati, Rajampet, Chittoor

The election has been posited as a direct contest between TDP’s Nara Chandrababu Naidu, who is reeling from a soured alliance with the BJP, and Jaganmohan Reddy, the President of the YSR Congress and the son of a regional strongman, the late YS Rajasekhara Reddy who was elected twice as the chief minister in 2004 nd 2009.

Given that the difference in the votes bagged by the TDP and YSRC was marginal in 2014, this election may provide an opportunity for a newcomer on an upswing, the actor-turned-politician Pawan Kalyan, to be a key player.

Telangana (voting in 17 out of 17 seats)

In the neighbouring Telengana, there are 443 candidates contesting and the major parties are K. Chandrashekar Rao’s Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), Congress and BJP.

The constituencies are Adilabad, Peddapalle, Karimnagar, Nizamabad, Zahirabad, Medak, Malkagiri, Secunderabad, Hyderabad, Chevella, Mahbubnagar, Nagarkurnool, Nalgonda, Bhongir, Warangal, Mahabubabad and Khammam.

Almost all opinion polls and surveys have handed a clear victory to the TRS, which dissolved the state government and audaciously called for early elections in 2018, and despite all odds, managed to secure a landslide victory. As a strong regional leader, although from a smaller state, Rao’s support will be crucial in determining the country’s next Prime Minister in the event the final is mandate is fractured.

Uttar Pradesh (voting in 8 out of 80 seats)

This is the state that has sent 8 prime ministers to New Delhi in the history of independent India. There are 96 candidates contesting in the first phase and the major parties are Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party (SP), Congress and BJP.

The constituencies are Saharanpur, Kairana, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor, Meerut, Baghpat, Ghaziabad and Gautam Buddha Nagar.

The two main regional parties BSP and SP have come together to take on the BJP which swept the state in the 2014 elections with a staggering 73 seats. The BJP also swept the state assembly elections in 2017 forcing the sparring laggards to form a coalition in a bid to consolidate votes.

The BSP’s primary vote bank includes extremely backward social segments, like the Dalits, while the SP panders to some other caste groups like the Yadavs aside from the Muslims, who form roughly 9% of the state’s electorate.

However, the Congress, which is going it alone, will hurt the alliance, as it will end up splitting the anti-BJP vote.

The state is also home to Ayodhya, the site of the proposed Ram Mandir (temple) - the promise of which to build has been an election talking point and a staple in the BJP’s election manifesto since 1996. The dispute between the Hindus and the Muslims over a religious site has flared communal sentiments frequently, especially around elections.

Uttarakhand (voting in 5 out of 5 seats)

To the west is the picturesque Uttarakhand, which was carved out of UP in 2000. There are 52 candidates contesting and the major parties are BSP, Congress and BJP.

The constituencies are Tehri Garhwal, Garhwal, Almora, Nainital-Udhamsingh Nagar, and Haridwar.

In 2014, BJP won all 5 seats in the state home to some of the country’s most famous hill stations and national parks. The party retained its strength in the 2017 elections for the state assembly winning 57 out of 70 seats. All eyes will be on the Nainital-Udhamsingh Nagar - where the former chief minister of the state, the Congress’s Harish Rawat is taking the state BJP president Ajay Bhatt head on.

Bihar (voting in 4 out of 40 seats)

Bordering UP on the exact opposite side as Uttarakhand is Bihar, one of the country’s most economically backward states. There are 44 candidates contesting and the major parties are Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), in alliance with the Congress and the BJP in alliance with the Janata Dal (United) led by state’s chief minister Nitish Kumar.

The constituencies are Aurangabad, Gaya, Nawada and Jamui.

While both sides have strong sets of followers, divided on caste and communal lines, Nitish Kumar and friends have anti-incumbency to fight against. Five years ago, Kumar campaigned against the BJP and this time he is fighting alongside the national party.

Some of his policies like the move to ban liquor in the state has also led to some discontent among voters. In fact, his rivals have promised to revoke the ban if voted to power.

On the other side, the RJD, despite its chequered past, has found some fresh energy in a young leader Tejaswi Yadav, son of the tainted patriarch Lalu Yadav.

Another young leader to watch from the state will be debutant challenger Kanhaiya Kumar, who is standing for the CPI(M) from Begusarai, which is also called the Leningrad of India because of its love for left-wing politics.

Kanhaiya Kumar shot to fame for taking on the politics of BJP and Prime Minister Modi as a student leader from the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi in 2016. The crackdown by the police on Kanhaiya and his friends for allegedly raising ‘anti-India slogans’ helped create huge sets of both fans and haters for the 32-year old politician who recently completed his Ph.D.

West Bengal (voting in 2 out of 42 seats)

There are 18 candidates are contesting in neighbouring West Bengal and the major parties are Trinamool Congress (TMC), Communist Party of India (Marxist), which goes by the acronym CPI(M), aside from the national parties, the Congress and the BJP.

The constituencies are Coochbehar and Alipurduar.

The state of West Bengal sends 42 members to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Indian Parliament, which has 543 seats. The polling has been spread out through all the seven phases of the ongoing election, not because of the states’ strength in the Parliament, but because the state embodies the country’s polarised and vitiated political environment like few others.

While the state was a hotbed of communal violence prior to independence, it had been dormant by the turn of the previous century. However, communal strife has been on the rise in the last few years and leading the agitators from two opposing sides are leaders either from or affiliated to the TMC and the BJP.

Odisha (voting in 4 out of 21 seats)

To the south of Bengal, there are 26 candidates contesting and the major parties are Biju Janata Dal (BJD), Congress and BJP, in Odisha, a state that is home to a beautiful coastline, a big proportion of struggling tribal population, as well as mineral resources like iron ore and bauxite.

The constituencies are Kalahandi, Nabarangpur, Berhampur and Koraput.

The general elections in Odisha will be a close contest between the BJD, led by incumbent CM Naveen Patnaik, and the BJP-led NDA alliance, which Patnaik was part of until 2009.

Patnaik is another strong regional leader and four-time chief minister and he has twice as much at stake in the next month and a half. People of Odisha will vote for both the Parliamentary seats and the assembly seats concurrently.

Patnaik, who is battling anti-incumbency, is also perceived to be weaker by some quarters because of the recent expulsion of senior leaders from the party, but the jury is still out on his ability to retain power in the state.

Chhattisgarh (voting for 1 out of 11 seats)

Just like Odisha, Chhattisgarh too is home to a big chunk of tribal population and is the hotbed of left-wing extremism. There are seven candidates contesting and the major parties are Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Congress and BJP.

The constituency is Bastar.

Fresh of its state election victory in December 2018, the Congress is on a high. The party had defeated BJP’s chief minister for 15 years with the promise of farm loan waivers. However, four months since the last state election victory, Congress has not delivered on its promises fully, leading to some displeasure among voters.

More importantly, guerilla fighters angered by decades of negligence have frequently stood against any democratic process in the state, and the issue remains a talking point in every election. Just this week, on April 10, a bomber using improvised explosive device in Bastar killed 5 people, including a BJP state legislator and four policemen.

Just like in Bengal, voting in Chhattisgarh, too, has been spread out into phases to ensure enough protection from the militants.

Maharashtra (voting in 7 out of 48 seats)

Not very far to the west of Chhattisgarh is one of the country’s biggest states, Maharashtra, which is home to the country’s financial capital, Mumbai. There are 122 candidates contesting and the major parties are Shiv Sena and BJP on one side and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party and its ally, the Congress.

The constituencies are Wardha, Ramtek, Nagpur, Bhandara-Gondiya, Gadchiroli-Chimur, Vhandrapur and Yavatmal-Washim.

While the ruling BJP and its ally Shiv Sena find support in the urban pockets, large parts of rural Maharashtra are still craving for financial support and land rights. Caste violence has also dotted the state’s recent history and some of the most backward communities like the Dalits have come out strongly against the BJP in recent years.

There is some discontent brewing among the Marathas, another strong vote bank in the state, which has been demanding affirmative action to reserve seats for the community in educational institutions and government jobs.

J&K (voting in 2 out of 6 seats)

Past three state borders to the north of Maharashtra is Jammu and Kashmir, where the appeal of democracy will be under test once again, in the shadows of the world’s highest battleground, the Siachen. There are 33 candidates contesting and the major parties are the Peoples Democratic Party, National Conference, the Congress and the BJP.

The constituencies are Baramulla and Jammu.

In this strife-torn state, even getting voters to turn up at polling booths is seen as a success.

While Jammu with a Hindu majority will be an easier play for the BJP, Baramulla, which is in the Kashmir valley will be a tougher fight.

J&K has been without a government since November 2018 after the dissolution of the alliance between the BJP and PDP.

The Kashmir valley, which has been the centre of India’s dispute with Pakistan, has seen persistent violence from infiltrators and separatists. One of the most recent incidents was the suicide bombing in Pulwama which killed over 40 Indian soldiers. The attack and India’s retaliation on the other side of the border with Pakistan will also be a factor driving people’s sentiment.

The BJP’s promise to revoke the special status of J&K and Article 35-A, which confers special rights on J&K residents especially in the acquisition of property and eligibility for public sector jobs, will also be an overhang on the party’s chances in the valley.

Meanwhile, rival Congress has promised to review the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a contentious law that has given the military special discretionary powers in “disturbed areas”. The law allows the soldiers to “fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death, against any person who is acting in contravention of any law".

This law has been a big reason for discontent among the locals who allege that the law protects certain sections of the armed forces that commit excesses.

Arunachal Pradesh (voting in 2 out of 2 seats)

Far to the east of J&K, at the other end of the country’s borders is Arunachal Pradesh. The election issue is very similar, AFSPA. However, in this state, where India has a border dispute with China, BJP repealed the contentious military powers from parts of the state just a few days ago.

There are 12 candidates contesting and the major parties are People's Party of Arunachal (PPA), the BJP and Congress.

The constituencies are Arunachal Pradesh West and Arunachal Pradesh East.

The fight is between the BJP and the Congress. Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijju and with AFSPA out of the question here, the debate over the citizenship bill has dominated the narrative.

Meghalaya (voting in 2 out of 2 seats)

Meghalaya also got freedom from AFSPA along with Arunachal last month. There are nine candidates contesting and the major contenders are National People's Party, United Democratic Party, BJP and Congress.

The constituencies are Shillong and Tura.

One of the key issues affecting all of north-east India is the debate over the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which seeks to provide citizenship to non-Muslim immigrants from neighbouring countries and expul undocumented people living in various parts by deeming them illegal immigrants.

The bill has been widely criticised across the country for discriminating against people on the basis of religion.

At a regional level, it has been condemned because it has the ability to alter the demographic makeup of states in the Northeast by granting Hindus citizenship and diminishing the strength of indigenous communities.

Assam (voting in 5 out of 14 seats)

There are 41 candidates contesting and the major parties are the All India United Democratic Front, BJP and Congress, and citizenship has been one of the core issues.

The constituencies are Tezpur, Kalibor, Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur.

The BJP swept the last state assembly elections but since then, it has found new dissidents for trying to create National Register of Citizens (NRC) that may render 4 million undocumented people nationless. Many of them are descendants of people who migrated to these parts, and therefore, were born and raised in India.

Manipur (voting in 1 out of 2 seats)

There are seven candidates contesting and the major parties contending are Peoples’ Resurgence and Justice Alliance, Congress and BJP.

The constituency is Outer Manipur.

Nagaland (voting in 1 out of 1 seat)

There are eight candidates contesting and the major parties are Naga People’s Front (NPF), BJP and Congress.

The constituency is Nagaland.

Aside from the debate over citizenship, the Naga peace process continues to be a big issue in both Manipur and Nagaland. For the better part of a century, Naga separatists have been campaigning for a sovereign state that includes Nagaland as well as parts of Manipur.

However, peace talks reached a breakthrough in 2015, when the central government signed an agreement with the The National Socialist Council of Nagalim. A final settlement will be contentious, however, as it could lead to the revision of boundaries of regional states.

Mizoram (voting in 1 out of 1 seat)

There are six candidates contesting and the major parties are Mizo National Front, Congress, Zoram People's Movement (ZPM) and BJP.

The constituency is Mizoram.

Mizo National Front won a majority in the state assembly election results declared in December 2018. The state is also famous for the high number of women voters. Out of 7.84 lakh registered voters for the polling on April 11, 4.02 lakh are women.

Sikkim (voting in 1 out of 1 seat)

There are 11 candidates are contesting and the major parties are Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), Congress, BJP and Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP).

The constituency is Sikkim.

In 2014, SDF won the seat. This time around, the SDF’s Pawan Chamling is hoping his promise of a universal basic income to the state’s residents will help it secure a re-election.

Tripura (voting in 1 out of 2 seats)

There are 13 candidates contesting and the major parties are All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist) and BJP.

The constituency is Tripura West.

Tripura was famously a left bastion in India until the assembly elections in 2018 when the Indigenous People's Front of Tripura (IPFT), in alliance with the BJP, dethroned the long-term CPI(M) government led by an iconic chief minister Manik Sarkar. However, IPFT has decided to go alone in this Parliamentary election.

Andaman & Nicobar Islands (voting in 1 out of 1 seat)

There are 15 candidates are contesting and the major contenders are BJP, Congress and TMC. BJP remains a front runner despite having held the seat for ten years in a row.

Lakshadweep (voting in 1 out of 1 seat)

The island union territory off the coast of Kerala is mostly dependent on tourism as a source of public revenue.

There are six candidates are contesting and the major parties are NCP, Congress and BJP. In 2014, Congress won the seat.