A closer contest: On the fifth phase of the general election, 2024

Women voters seem to hold the key as elections reach the business end

The fifth phase of the general election, held on Monday, featured contests in the fewest number of seats — 49. But it included heavyweight seats such as Rae Bareli, Amethi and Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh, the urban areas of Mumbai, Thane and Nashik in Maharashtra, the southern parts of West Bengal, which saw strong contests between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) in 2019, besides simultaneous Assembly and parliamentary polls in the south-western seats of Odisha. In Maharashtra, the splintering of the main regional parties has made it a battleground State along with Bihar, Karnataka and West Bengal. Voter turnout in Maharashtra was relatively low when compared to the rest of the country, with Mumbai retaining its unfavourable reputation of voter apathy. The Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction counts these seats as some of its strongholds and its alliance’s performance here might well decide the course of the battle now as well as in the Assembly elections later this year. The Maha Vikas Aghadi-Mahayuti contest of coalitions has upended the traditional patterns of support bases for the extant parties in the State and this election could herald a new correlation of forces.

In U.P., the Opposition has managed to keep the contest going on issues related to livelihoods and has prevented it being a cakewalk for the BJP which has sought to use the Ram Mandir consecration issue to register another near-sweep. The Opposition’s focus is expected to give it a bigger fillip in Bihar, where Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejaswi Yadav’s relentless campaigning on employment issues has made the elections even more competitive. The BJP now seeks to bank on its record in welfare delivery, expecting the support of poorer voters and women. Voter turnout in the fifth phase is in line with the trends seen in the fourth phase in U.P., which registered better numbers than phases two and three, while preliminary trends in Bihar indicate a slight reduction compared to the previous phase. The turnout has in general been marginally lower than what it was in 2019 across the country. In Odisha and West Bengal too, women voters could be crucial in deciding the fortunes of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and the TMC. While turnout was relatively low in Odisha, West Bengal registered close to 73%, according to early numbers. Women out-voted men in West Bengal significantly till phase four and the TMC would be encouraged as it banks on its women-centric welfare measures to overcome the BJP’s formidable challenge. The BJD would hope that its work in mobilising women through self-help groups will continue to yield it strong support, especially in rural areas.