The 39-day polling process that started on April 11 ends today.
By 6 this evening, every voter across the country who wanted to exercise his/her franchise will have done so, and all the electronic voting machines will be sealed and stored, to be opened on May 23, the votes tallied and the winner announced. The fight has been between the National Democratic Alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the United Progressive Alliance led by the Congress, with the myriad regional parties jostling for votes and seeking to form post-poll alliances depending on the way the results go. The exit polls late this evening will possibly give a fair idea of what to expect on counting day, but until the EVMs are opened, all analysis will be mere speculation.
This has been a campaign like no other that the nation has seen since Independence. For starters, it almost felt like a presidential form of an election, as there were just two leaders traversing the country addressing political rallies in every State as they attempted to drum up support for their respective parties. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and All lndia Congress Committee president Rahul Gandhi canvassed, verbally sparred and baited each other in the past two months. But that similarity ended there. The campaign took a beligerent stance, as political parties traded charges, even leading to violence and the abrupt ending of the campaing in West Bengal one day ahead of schedule by the Election Commission.
The election campaign saw the opposition parties allege the destruction of democratic institutions and processes by the NDA. Writers called on the people to vote against hate politics, retired civil servants alleged that institutions, including the Election Commission of India, had been compromised. For every one of the allegations, there were counter allegations and defences from another batch of writers or civil servants. Political discourse in the country shifted from debating the economic performance of the nation and revolved more around upholding secularism and the principles enshrined in the Constitution. But it can never be forgotten or even overlooked that in the past five years the secular nature of the country was very often under attack.
The aache din promised in the first flush of victory of 2014 never materialised. Instead came demonetisation and soon thereafter was introduced the GST regime that slowed down economic growth. Promises made were quickly forgotten. Farmer suicides continued, unemployment statistics did not improve. And yet the election campaign revolved more around other matters than such crucial issues. It is ending, now, but the government that takes charge, inherits a country that is deeply divided.
The Panjim by-poll coincides with the last phase of polling for the Lok Sabha election. The State capital votes today for a new MLA, and in a field of six, has four serious candidates to choose from. It is a choice that the residents of the city have to make for development, a choice for the future, a choice that could alter the political equations in the State. The political situation in the State is so fragile that the result of even a single seat in a by-election could possibly shift the balance. The Panjim seat has become prestigious, not merely for the reason that it is the State capital, but also because it has been held since 1994 by Manohar Parrikar, and BJP would want to retain it whatever the consequences.
There will be a three-day break before the votes are counted. It is then that we will know whether India voted to take ahead the principles of secularism enshrined in the Constitution. What will it be? May 23 will tell.