Narendra Modi , India's Prime Minister and leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of the country's Uttar Pradesh state waves to the crowd during his roadshow on the eve of filing of his election nomination papers, in Varanasi on May 13, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

In India, we like our festivals colourful and loud, complete with huge revelry. We even call our elections a “festival of democracy,” as they are ushered in with giant public meetings, helicopters hovering noisily. We prize what we describe as good orators — actually pulpit-thumping leaders making wild accusations, complete with roaring crowds.

This time around, in the big battle of 2024, virtually the Maha (giant) festival of democracy, as we hit the halfway point in the longest election in living memory (seven slow phrases), the buzz is missing, as if the people, the real stars in this democratic show, are in a heat-induced torpor. This summer, the heat is killer (40 degrees on average), and currently, the only consensus is: why can’t the Election Commission schedule general elections in India’s winter?

But, that, I’m afraid, is it in terms of what this election has signalled so far. Analysts are now calling it an “issueless election,” seeing the lacklustre response to the big guns rolled out in public meetings, who are getting yawns in response to oratorical flourishes.

As I, in my SWAT analysis, want my loyal readers to read India through this column, I can confess nothing — no issue — is really catching fire with the voters. If the 2014 election, which brought Narendra Modi to power, was about ushering “acche din” (good days), and the 2019 elections, post the Pulwama attack, was about “muscular nationalism,” which gave Modi his second term, this time around, no issue is so overwhelming the voter.

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India is quiet

India is quiet and seems to be in a mood to assess the big promises and the poor delivery that is the lot of the voters postelections. As someone once said, “you campaign in poetry, but govern in prose.” In India, we have outstanding poetry, but delivery is faulty.

So, my status update with some takeaways from the halfway mark:

The BJP is clearly the most well-funded party at the hustings. You can see it in their slick presentation, but all talk of “ab ki baar 400 paar,” (this time 400 seats) which was Modi’s signature tune in this election, has vanished after the voting in the second phase. BJP leaders fear this war cry was making their voters complacent and ensuring she stayed home in the heat rather than queue at the voting booth.

The electronic voting machines (EVMs) still continue to be a talking point, causing doubts in the minds of the voter about how free and fair the exercise of the mandate is. The Election Commission (EC), for the first time ever, didn’t send a notice to caretaker PM Modi, but to his party president, J.P. Nadda, for a communal speech.

The BJP was not asked to take down a communal social media advertisement, but X, formerly known as Twitter, was. The EC is handling the BJP with kid gloves while the opposition gets the rough end of the stick. A letter to Malikaarjun Kharge, Congress President, is a case in point.

Read more by Swati Chaturvedi

Watch this space

The EC was scoring political points. After social media was lit with minority voters being denied their votes with voter identification cards being ripped up in a city in Uttar Pradesh, the EC chose to believe a low-level government official and was called out by independent media who spoke to the voters denied their right to vote. The EC has truly blemished its institutional reputation as a gatekeeper and umpire of a free election in a democracy.

The opposition India alliance has managed a feisty fight after having been written off entirely by the mainstream media as no-hopers. Before the first vote was cast, the mainstream media had already declared Modi the winner. The India alliance is giving the BJP a huge run for its money.

This is the first election where Google, Meta, X, Instagram, and WhatsApp are where all the action is with huge spends on social messaging. If you were in New Delhi, for example, you wouldn’t even know that an election was on because it is absent on the street. Public meetings are still held and roadshows, but social is triumphant.

As usual, watch this space for all the action. We promise you won’t miss a thing.