India

Mayawati: India dalit icon delivers election shock

Mayawati at a press conference Image copyright Getty Images

India has entered full election mode: voting is due to begin on 11 April, with the final ballot cast more than five weeks later on 19 May. Every day, the BBC will be bringing you all the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world's largest democracy.

The latest from the campaign trail

Mayawati delivers poll shock

Mayawati, the Dalit icon and leader of the powerful regional Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), based in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, has just announced she is not contesting the general election.

Her party had tied up with regional rival Samajwadi Party (SP) in a bid to counter the influence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP.

Uttar Pradesh sends 80 MPs to parliament.

Why does it matter?

We still don't have too much detail about what is behind her decision.

All we know for now is that she addressed a press conference in the state capital, Lucknow, where she said she would concentrate on the "alliance".

Ms Mayawati is an extremely important figure in the politics of the country. She speaks for millions of people from the Dalit (formerly known as untouchables) community, and has been the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh four times. It was widely anticipated that she would be a key figure in any coalition alliance, so it is unclear how her decision to not run will impact this.

She was also an MP in the upper house of parliament before resigning in July 2017 in protest, complaining that her voice was being "muzzled" after not being allowed to complete an impromptu speech about the treatment of Dalits.

Watching the watchmen

What happened?

The newest buzzword on the campaign trail is "chowkidar" or "watchman".

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used the term for a while now, telling the people that he is their "watchman" - someone who looks out for them and serves them.

However in recent weeks, he has really upped the ante, even changing his Twitter handle to "Chowkidar Narendra Modi" - prompting other senior members of his cabinet to do the same.

He is also going to address a crowd of 250,000 watchmen across the country through an audio link on Wednesday.

Why does it matter?

This is important for two reasons.

Firstly, it is a clever use of the term to address the issue of national security. Last month's suicide attack in Indian-administered Kashmir saw the entire discourse around the election shift. Mr Modi and his government had been battling real discontent over issues like rising unemployment, increasing farmer suicides and a slowing economy.

After the attack in Pulwama however, all this was laid aside in the interest of heightened patriotism and national fervour. When Mr Modi confirmed that India had carried out air strikes against militant camps inside Pakistan, his approval ratings soared. Even at that point, as he addressed a campaign rally in the northern state of Rajasthan, his message was clear: the nation is in safe hands.

Since then - and in spite of a crackdown on the use of the military in campaign materials - Mr Modi and his party have ensured it is national security, and not the other issues, which are firing up voters.

The second reason this is important is the fact that Mr Modi is once again demonstrating he is utterly in control of the narrative - forcing opposition parties to counter him on his own terms.

So even when a leader like Rahul Gandhi says "Chowkidar Chor Hain" (The watchman is a thief), he is still essentially playing by Mr Modi's rules.

In the meantime, the "Chowkidar" theme has proverbially broken the internet in India with memes, tweets and posts galore. There's even a ring tone. Apart from leaders, supporters of the BJP have started changing their social media handles and pictures to include the word.

Being a watchman in India has never quite been so glamorous.

New kid on the block

What happened on Tuesday?

Pramod Sawant, a lawmaker from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is Goa's new chief minister. The former CM, Manohar Parikkar, died on Sunday.

Mr Sawant, 46, was sworn in around 02:00 local time (20:30 GMT) on Tuesday, only fitting in a state famous for its nightlife.

Why does this matter?

Parrikar's death sparked some late-night political wrangling as the BJP rushed to retain its hold over the coalition government.

The Congress tried to woo some of the lawmakers to challenge the BJP's majority, but their hopes were dashed when the ruling party scraped together enough seats by partnering with two regional allies.

It's a crucial win for the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha polls as it proves that regional allies are willing to bet on them.

But it's a blow for the Congress, which has been struggling to forge alliances in other key states. To add insult to injury, their rushed attempts to wrest power - before Parrikar's funeral had even been held - earned them flak on Twitter from BJP supporters.

And soon, the hashtag #VampireCongress was trending.

Highlights from the last week:

You can read a full recap of everything political from the last week here.

But here are some of the stand-out moments:

  • The week began with some concerns over the dates of the election, which had been announced the day before. Some people claimed that the way the election had been staggered over several states would unfairly benefit the ruling BJP, although others were quick to dismiss their worries as "rubbish".
  • It also saw the official start of the main opposition Congress party's election campaign in the prime minister's home state of Gujarat. Priyanka Gandhi, the charismatic younger sister of party leader Rahul Gandhi, got on stage to make her first speech as a fully-fledged politician to mixed reviews.
  • Also noteworthy was the fact that firebrand social activist Hardik Patel, who rose to fame challenging the prime minister in Gujarat, officially joined the Congress party and sat on stage next to national party leaders, although he did not address the crowd. The 25-year-old commerce graduate, who was not old enough to stand for election under India's rules until this year, first rose to political fame as the face of massive caste protests which rocked Mr Modi's state in 2015.
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Media captionHardik Patel enjoys massive support among his Patidar community
  • However it was certainly not a week of complete triumph for the opposition party. Tom Vadakkan, a leader seen as close to former party president Sonia Gandhi, crossed over to the BJP after telling reporters that he was "upset" with his party's response to a suicide attack which killed 40 troops in Indian-administered Kashmir last month. This was seen as yet another instance of a BJP strategy to "chip away" at opposition parties.
  • Women were front and centre of political agendas, with West Bengal leader Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC) announcing its candidate list, revealing 40% of them were women. This put pressure on other parties to follow suit.

Read all our latest election coverage

  • The BJP retaliated by saying that they were in this position in the first place because India's first prime minister - and Mr Gandhi's great-grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru - was responsible for China having a security council seat in the first place. This didn't really find too many takers though, and was refuted by Congress leader and Nehru biographer Shashi Tharoor. It also gave rise to some jokes like this:

Other highlights included Narendra Modi bombarding Bollywood with democracy-loving tweets, Priyanka Gandhi's very first tweet and controversy over the alleged withholding of yet another jobs report by the government.

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Media captionModi's India: Is Modi failing the jobless?

What about the week before?

The election hadn't even been announced, but no one could have been unaware that it was coming: the BJP had placed adverts in 150 newspapers across the country extolling its successes over the last five years - all of which had to come to a stop on Monday, due to election rules.

How do the Lok Sabha elections work?

India's lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha, has 543 elected seats. Any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a majority government.

Some 900 million voters - 86 million more than the last elections in 2014 - are eligible to vote at 930,000 polling stations.

Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) will be used at all polling stations. The entire process will be overseen by the Election Commission of India.

Who are the main players?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi who won a landslide victory in 2014 is seeking a second term for both himself and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

His main challengers are the main opposition Congress party led by Rahul Gandhi, and a consortium of regional parties called the Mahagathbandhan (which translates from the Hindi into massive alliance).

The Mahagathbandhan has seen some of India's strongest regional parties, including fierce rivals, come together.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Many see the upcoming election as a referendum on Mr Modi

This includes the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) led by Dalit icon Mayawati, normally fierce rivals in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most number of MPs to parliament.

The alliance also includes the Trinamool Congress which is in power in the state of West Bengal and Arvind Kejriwal whose Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) rules Delhi.

The aim of the alliance is to consolidate regional and anti-BJP votes, in order to oust Mr Modi from power.

Other regional players including Tamil Nadu's DMK and AIADMK and Telangana's TRS in the south are not part of the alliance, but are expected to perform well in their own states, which is likely to make them key to any coalition government.

When do I vote? The dates at a glance

11 April: Andhra Pradesh (25), Arunachal Pradesh (2), Assam (5), Bihar (4), Chhattisgarh (1), J&K (2), Maharashtra (7), Manipur (1), Meghalaya (2), Mizoram (1), Nagaland (1), Odisha (4), Sikkim (1), Telangana (17), Tripura (1), Uttar Pradesh (UP) (8), Uttarakhand (5), West Bengal (2), Andaman & Nicobar (1), Lakshadweep (1)

18 April: Assam (5), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (3), Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) (2), Karnataka (14), Maharashtra (10), Manipur (1), Odisha (5), Tamil Nadu (39), Tripura (1), UP (8), West Bengal (3), Puducherry (1)

23 April: Assam (4), Bihar (5), Chhattisgarh (7), Gujarat (26), Goa (2), J&K (1), Karnataka (14), Kerala (20), Maharashtra (14), Odisha (6), UP (10), West Bengal (5), Dadar and Nagar Haveli (1), Daman and Diu (1)

29 April: Bihar (5), J&K (1), Jharkhand (3), MP (6), Maharashtra (17), Odisha (6), Rajasthan (13), UP (13), Bengal (8)

6 May: Bihar (1), J&K (2), Jharkhand (4), Madhya Pradesh (MP) (7), Rajasthan (12), UP (14), Bengal (7)

12 May: Bihar (8), Haryana (10), Jharkhand (4), MP (8), UP (14), Bengal (8), Delhi (7)

19 May: Bihar (8), Jharkhand (3), MP (8), Punjab (13), Bengal (9), Chandigarh (1), UP (13), Himachal Pradesh (4)

23 May: Votes counted

Key: Date: State (number of seats being contested))

Find out exactly when you are voting by visiting the Election Commission of India's website

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