Local Elections in the Country
India witnessed a series of significant local elections in some states, whose results are important to assess the current ground of the ruling party and the opposition.
District Development Council (DDC) Polls in Kashmir:
DDC polls in Jammu and Kashmir were the first major electoral exercise held after the abolition of special status (under Article 370) for J&K in August 2019. Elections were held to 280 DDC seats in 8 phases, with results of 278 seats declared.
The have been a mixed bag for, both, BJP and opposition, but BJP’s performance has been admirable considering the odds in J&K. BJP has also been able to retain and strengthen its core Hindu vote-bank in J&K due to its impressive, clean-sweep performance in Hindu dominated and densely populated Jammu districts of Jammu, Samba, Kathua and Udhampur.
The main opposition was People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) or Gupkar Alliance.
This was the first time that people of J&K voted for local elections under the Indian Constitution’s 73rd Constitutional Amendment Act. Previously, dominant Kashmir-based parties and Congress have refrained from holding local elections.
This was also a peaceful (undisturbed by terrorists), free and fair election. BJP had full might of state power on its side and could have easily rigged the election if it had chosen to, much like Congress and NC have done in the past. Yet, the integrity of the election was maintained. It brings back contrasting memories of the infamous 1987 elections which were jointly rigged by Congress and NC, and contributed in no small measure to the rise of terrorism in the Valley.
Election results bear out all the markings of a successful election – very significant from the international point of view.
|Party||Seat share||Vote Share (%)|
|J&K Apni Party (JKAP)||12||5.2|
Source: TNN (2020)
Break-up of Gupkar Alliance Seats and Vote-shares:
|Gupkar Alliance (PAGD) parties||Seat share||Vote Share (%)|
|National Conference (NC)||67||16.3|
|People’s Democratic Party (PDP)||27||3.9|
|J&K People’s Conference (JKPC) (Sajjad Lone’s party)||8||2|
|Communist Party Marxist (CPM)||5||0.2|
|J&K People’s Movement (JKPM)||3||0.4|
Source: TNN (2020)
Seats and Vote-Shares in Jammu:
|Party||North Jammu||North Jammu Vote Share (%)||South Jammu||South Jammu Vote Share (%)||Total|
|Gupkar Alliance (PAGD)||24||27||2||7||26|
Source: TNN (2020)
Seats and Vote-Shares in Kashmir:
|Party||North Kashmir||North Kashmir Vote Share (%)||South Kashmir||South Kashmir Vote Share (%)||Total|
|Gupkar Alliance (PAGD)||47||34||37||38.9||84|
Source: TNN (2020)
|District||Largest Party||Seats||Vote Share (%)|
Source: TNN (2020)
|Party||Strike rate or contested vote-share (%)|
Source: TNN (2020)
The DDC election results convey the following messages:
- BJP has emerged as the single largest party in terms of seat-share, while the Gupkar Alliance, as a whole, has won the most number of seats.
- In terms of contested vote-share, Gupkar Alliance did better than BJP. Performance of both NC and PDP was decent. However, it was the smaller parties within the alliance – particularly Communists and Sajjad Lone’s JKPC that had the best contested vote share performance.
- In terms of region, while BJP swept Jammu, PAGD swept Kashmir. But BJP’s performance was good mainly in core Hindu majority southern Jammu, while Independents and PAGD performed better in northern Jammu, which has Muslim-dominated seats like Rajauri, Poonch etc. BJP got seats everywhere in Jammu, except for Poonch where it drew a blank. Therefore, regional religious polarization was visible in both Jammu and Kashmir.
Table: Approximate Seat share (%) according to religion:
|Party||Entirely Muslim districts (11)||Entirely Hindu districts (4)||Mixed districts (5)|
Source: Kawoosa (2020)
- Congress performance: Congress’s overall performance was weak, as were its overall and contested vote-shares. Its regional performance was also weak everywhere, although in northern Jammu it managed to get 17 seats. Even NC’s performance was better than the Congress in Jammu. In Hindu majority southern Jammu, where it used to compete with BJP, Congress got zero seats. The party is unpopular among both Hindus and Muslims.
- Turnout of voters: In Jammu, the voter turnout ranged between 64.21% to 72.71% during different phases. In Kashmir, the turnout ranged between 29.91% to 40.65% in different phases. The four south Kashmir districts of Pulwama, Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag, which have been severely impacted by separatism and terrorism, had the lowest turnout, ranging between 7.65% (Pulwama) to around 25% (Anantnag and Kulgam)(Chowdhary, 2020). North Kashmir had the highest turnout in Kashmir region at 45%.
Turnout in Kashmir has vastly improved over the previous -Parliamentary and Panchayat – elections, thereby vindicating India’s new changes and position in Kashmir in the wake of Article 370 revocation.
Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) Election Results:
GHMC elections to 150 wards were held in November. They were particularly significant for BJP, as through these elections, BJP had sought to strengthen its inroads in Telangana. National level leaders of BJP campaigned alongside state level leaders and the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) was shaken.
Results have seen BJP vastly improving its past performance, firmly making inroads in the state and now standing in direct opposition to the TRS.
TRS emerged as the single largest party with 56 wards, BJP came second with 48 wards, while AIMIM came third with 44 wards. Despite being the single largest party, TRS could not get the requisite majority of 65 wards to fill up the mayoral post. Congress secured just 2 wards, leading its state President to tender resignation.
In 2016 elections of GHMC, TRS had secured 99 wards and has now been reduced to 56. BJP, on the other hand, drastically improved its performance from 4 wards in 2016 to 48 wards in 2020. AIMIM had secured 44 wards in both 2016 and 2020, thereby maintaining its performance among its core Muslim base.
This time, majority of the gains for the BJP came from Secunderabad (10 wards) and LB Nagar (16 wards). BJP’s overall vote share was 35.56%, while that of TRS was 35.81%. BJP increased its vote share from 10.34% in 2016, while TRS lost 8.95% vote share from 2016. TDP got zero seats. Its vote share also plunged from 13.11% to 1.61%, compared to 2016. Congress got a vote share of 6.5%, while AIMIM increased its vote share from 15.85% to 18.28% (Nanisetti, 2020).
Hyderabad has a 43% Muslim population, thereby making BJP’s performance all the more significant. The new political equations heralding a bipolar contest between BJP and TRS in state politics – with AIMIM already a strong player among Muslims – will likely lead to sharpening of religious fault-lines. RSS has also become stronger in the state, with as many as 1600 shakhas.
Intermediary Castes play a crucial role in Telangana politics. BJP did intricate caste-based social engineering, besides religious revivalism, in order to make an impact.
The party sought to mobilize non-dominant backward classes – such as Intermediary Classes like the Reddys. It also gave great importance to the Most Backward Classes (MBCs), who are underrepresented in Telangana politics. BJP mobilized those smaller backward classes, all over the city, which have largely been ignored by all other political parties. BJP and RSS worked hard to consolidate small MBC castes such as Kurumas, Kummaris, Vadderas, Viswakarma and Chaattada Srivaishnava, and also larger OBC groups such as Gouds, Mudirajs, Yadavs, and Padmasalis (Vernier, Gowd, & Sangem, 2020).
BJP’s President and the State Organising Secretary also belonged to MBC category. It was also fairly successful in consolidating upper and intermediary castes.
Finally, the party combined all these split and sharp identities within a larger Hindutva mould. Thus, it may have approached them through the caste angle initially, but the larger strategy is based on Hindutva.
Local Elections in Kerala:
Yet another set of significant elections were held in Kerala in December. Elections were held to 15,962 gram Panchayat seats, 2080 block Panchayat seats, 331 district Panchayat seats, 3078 Municipality seats and 414 Corporations. Kerala has 941 gram panchayats, 14 district panchayats, 152 block panchayats, 87 municipalities and 6 corporations.
The ruling Communist Left Democratic Front (LDF) easily had the best performance, while Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) saw a decline. BJP saw largely a mixed performance.
|LDF (40.2% vote share)||UDF (37.9% vote share)||NDA (15% vote share)|
|Gram Panchayats won||514||321||19|
|Block Panchayats won||108||38||0|
|District Panchayats won||11||3||0|
BJP had won 1,236 seats in the last local body elections, with 14% vote share. This time, it won 1800 wards, but lost at least 600 sitting seats. However, it also made inroads into seats never held by it before. It finished second in almost 600 wards.
BJP, to an extent, won the confidence of Ezhava and Nair communities in central Travancore and southern areas. It also won the seat where Sabrimala agitation took place (Anilkumar, 2020). Thus, while BJP made new inroads, it also found it difficult to hold onto its existing positions. Situation in Kerala is still tough for BJP.
Local elections were also held in Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) in Assam; Zilla Panchayat elections in Goa;
BTC elections (total no. of seats: 40):
No. of seats won:
|Bodoland People’s Front (BPF)||United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL)||BJP||Congress||Asom Gana Parishad (AGP)|
Goa Zilla Panchayat Elections:
BJP won decisively in Goa Zilla Panchayat elections. It won 14 out of 24 seats in South Goa zilla panchayat. It won 19 out of 25 seats in North Goa zilla panchayat. Congress won just 1 seat in North Goa and 3 in South Goa.
|Party||Seats||Vote share (contested %)|
Rajasthan Local Body Elections:
Elections were held to 4371 seats in 222 panchayat samitis and 636 seats in 21 zilla parishads. BJP trumped the Congress in Rajasthan rural local body elections to panchayat samitis and zilla parishads.
|Party||No. of seats won in panchayat samiti|
Source: TNN (2020)
|Party||No. of seats in zilla parishad|
Source: TNN (2020)
Elections were also held in urban local bodies (ULBs) in which Congress beat the BJP. Elections were held for 1775 ward councillor posts in 50 urban local bodies.
|Party||No. of seats in ULBs|
Source: PTI (2020)
The New Strain of Coronavirus COVID19:
Much debate has been raging about the newly detected strain of COVID19. The new strain has been caused by mutations of the virus and is known to be a super-spreader – nearly 70% more transmissible. While the new strain has been detected from several countries – Denmark, England, Australia and South Africa, its impact has been particularly felt in south and east of England.
Unnecessary panic has been created over the new strain, as many thousands of mutations have already occurred in this virus since 2019. WHO has said that the virus causes multiple mutations and this is one of them, and that there is no evidence whatsoever that this super-spreader is more severe or leads to worsening of the disease. WHO has cautioned against the kind of ill-informed panic being currently spread (Kannan, 2020).
Covid-10 Genomics UK (COG-UK) has affirmed the same view, explaining that majority of mutations taking place have no effect on the virus and its potency/severity (Kannan, 2020). Indeed, the current mutation, by bringing about genetic changes, has increased the binding affinity (to the humans) of the COVID19, since the mutation has occurred in the virus’s receptor binding domain (Sheriff, 2020). This has not, however, affected the level of severity of the virus.
UK has, since the last 2 months, imposed restrictions and lockdowns in various parts of England, even before the new strain was detected. Yet, Public Health England (PHE) determined, in its observations, that infection rates in Kent were not falling despite the restrictions imposed. The reason was linked to super-spreading properties of the new strain.
The current point of debate is whether the vaccines developed and being developed will fail to affect the new strain. This is still unknown. While some scientists have a divided opinion, others expect that vaccines may be capable of offering protection against a mutant virus by generating a variety of antibodies and memory cells that will help fight the infection (Kannan, 2020). India has approved the use of Covaxin and Covishield in two dosages – indigenous vaccines of Serum Institue of India and Bharat Biotech. However, efficacy of vaccines are questionable. Around the world and in India, many who participated in vaccine trials got COVID-19 in spite of being vaccinated.
The uncertainty around the new strain has led to much panic, with European countries imposing restrictions of varying levels of severity. In Germany, there were renewed protests against restrictions. After much public pressure and reluctance, India’s response has, so far, been to temporarily suspend flights from UK, as various other countries have done.
However, US states – like California – are witnessing some of the harshest lockdowns since Spring, due to the just past holiday season, as states are trying to contain cases by imposing restrictions but without completely shutting down the economy (Barrett & Kesling, 2020).
In our past issues, we have highlighted how the public reaction to the virus – compounded by media hype – has been to create unmitigated fear among the people. Governments have responded to this hype and sought to impose lockdowns in the quest to listen to scientists and experts and so as to appear to be taking some politically uncontroversial actions. This has come at the cost of debilitating the collective psychology.
India has been through this phase in the worst possible way and seems to be shunning that path altogether now. Other countries have, however, witnessed increased paranoia.
It is important to realize, in the present context, that the future will witness – thanks to our deteriorating lifestyles, environmental changes, psychology, consciousness and health habits – worse and worse kind of viruses. Under such circumstances, practically speaking, only boosting immunity and overall mindset through conscious and determined efforts can help. As the body develops resistance to antibiotics and with vaccines difficult to develop against rapidly mutating viruses, there is little scope for continuing business-as-usual.
Diplomatic Talks Held and Prospective China-India Border Talks:
Communication between Chinese and Indian sides is going on, to determine when to hold the 9th round of Corps Commander-level border-level talks. On the ground, the Chinese said, the situation is stable and continuous mutual consultations and troop management are going on.
The last foreign ministry-level talks were held between the two sides on December 18th – where the two sides decided to continue to ensure disengagement along all friction points along LAC.
On December 19th, Chinese President, Xi Jingping, also appointed a new General as the Commander of the People’s Liberation Army’s Western Theatre Command which oversees the China-India border. This was significant, as the previous General, Zhao Zongqi, had been known to have intentions of provoking India in petty fights so as to secure his domestic political ambitions. He had overseen the Doklam standoff of 2017 as well as the recent tensions in Ladakh.
It is also significant to note that the year-end review of satellite positions affirms India’s strong position along the border friction points in Ladakh, along Pangong Tso, Rechin La and Rezang La mountain passes (Sharma, 2021).
Modi’s Soaring Popularity Ratings
At the end of 2020 – year marked by unpopularity of governments around the world due to COVID19 situation – a survey done by a US-based organization, compared popularity ratings of different Heads of State around the world.
PM Modi has the highest approval ratings. Not only that, but his ratings were higher even than the highest approval ratings of any other democratic Head of State.
This is significant, as the year 2020 has been marked by several leaders losing their popularity. President Trump lost the US election, UK’s Boris Johnson and Russia’s Putin are on a wane. But, as even series of domestic elections in India have confirmed, Modi remains popular among people.