The dates for the Lok Sabha election have been announced. This time, the election will be completed in seven phases.

Political parties have taken stands that they believe are electorally sound. But there are some issues that are of concern to every citizen of the country. These are those issues that will also affect the result of the election to a large extent.

National security and terrorism: Advantage NDA

Since 1990, national security and terrorism have been major issues in elections, but this time it was not until the recent Pulwama attack. After the massacre of CRPF soldiers in Pulwama and airstrike in Balakot, Pakistan, by the Indian Air Force, the issue can even change the direction of elections. It can prove a winner for the BJP, which will try to show that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the only leader who can take tough decisions and throw a credible challenge at Pakistan and its terrorists.

Welfare schemes: Advantage NDA

The Modi government launched many welfare and development schemes during its tenure. Jan Dhan Yojana, Ujjwala, Swachh Bharat, PM-KISAN, Ayushman Bharat, PM-SYM, etc are prominent in this. The opposition parties struggled to label the government as ‘suit boot ki sarkar’, a coinage by Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

However, emboldened by the wins in three recent Assembly elections, the Congress would like to increase the momentum by offering freebies and doles to counter Modi’s welfare schemes, which helped the party to some extent in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

As for the other States, Bengal’s Mamata Banerjee, Karnataka’s JD(S)-Congress government, Tamil Nadu’s AIADMK (now an ally of the BJP) claim they have equally good or better welfare schemes than whatever the Centre offers.

Nevertheless, Modi is ahead of the competition as far as publicity of the schemes is concerned.

Inflation: Advantage NDA

This has been the most successful government in the history of India in keeping inflation low. So much so, the price rise is hardly an issue, thanks also to a constantly reducing GST and persistently increasing ease of doing business added to consumers’ higher purchasing power.

At the same time, some say that one of the major reasons for curbing inflation is that the goods were purchased at a lower price from the farmer. In such a situation, the government may have succeeded in controlling inflation, but in rural areas, the party may have to pay a price, which Sirf News will deal with under the section on farmers.

Jobs: Picture unclear

This could have been the most potent weapon of the opposition if they had persistently harped on it for five years. Unfortunately for the polity of India, the opposition spent most of the period crying foul over statistically untenable issues like intolerance, which they could never prove to a large section of Hindus was a policy of the Modi government.

For the past few months, the opposition has been talking about jobs. Even then, the issue strikes a chord only in that constituency that is looking for government jobs like Indians till the 1980s did. In the industry, there is no hue and cry about unemployment — even as they complain that the vacancies cannot be filled due to the inadequacy of skilled labour.

All the opposition parties, including the Congress, have tried to corner the government several times on this issue. However, with no alternative economic model that promises rapid employment generation, all the me-too socialist parties are unable to make jobs a rallying point.

The Modi government is on the backfoot trying to defend its act of suppressing the NSSO data on employment, but data jugglery does not quite influence elections positively or negatively.

The government has tried to provide evidence of fulfilling the promise of jobs, citing the increasing number of EPFO accounts and the increased number of loans for businesses, but the opposition is not impressed.

Rural economy: Advantage opposition

This is a sector that will always be anti-incumbent until the model of the farm economy that India has followed since independence changes to turn farmers into full-fledged manufacturer-businessmen.

Restricted by input prices as well as the sales price of their produce, farmers will always blame the government of the day for their plight, and Modi will not get an exceptional relief. He must face the music for being unable to liberalise the farm market.

They made Modi win in 2014 for the same reason; they were then angry with the Manmohan Singh government.

This time, there is resentment among the rural voters for not getting better returns from their agricultural investment. Demonetisation has been the harshest for the farm sector as the bulk of this business ran on cash. A majority of those who owed the farmers were either not ready to abandon black money in cash or were not even equipped to do so.

In the elections of Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, Congress tried to take full advantage of this issue and they also got success. After this, the BJP has tried to fulfil this shortcoming by helping farmers in many ways including DBT for inputs and PM-KISAN that pays most farmers Rs 6,000 per annum.

Hindutva: Stalemate

While a figure that polarises the electorate is supposed to earn dividends for the party he belongs to, this time, the BJP is not gaining from this effort. But then, it is not losing either.

The allegation of intolerance could not be statistically established. There is no evidence that instances of mob lynching happened at the behest of government functionaries, and there have been such horrid incidents even under the UPA rule while they were not reported on front pages of newspapers and prime-time television.

In several cases, when the police completed the investigation, the culprit turned out to be totally unrelated to the Sangh Parivar: two Sikh youths who vandalised a church in north-east Delhi, a Bangladeshi infiltrator who raped a nun in Bengal, a burglar who damaged the convent school that Smriti Irani used to go to during her childhood, fellow passengers who killed a Muslim youth over a fight for berths, etc. At the same time, Hindu victims were not played up by the media to the extent of Dadri lynching, thus making the fourth estate lose its credibility.

Yet, the BJP does not gain from this issue because of the clumsiness with which it, along with the RSS, handled Sabarimala — first supporting the imposition of ‘gender equality’ in temple entry and then making a U-turn in the name of tradition. Before this, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s stand on the Shani Shignapur issue alienated a chunk of Hindu voters as did his wife’s frequent frivolous conduct — or lack of gravitas — in public life, which does not impress Muslims and Christians either.

The opposition gains nothing from the issue as, throughout the last five years, the only people who seemed to be impressed by the allegation of intolerance are those who were on the opposition’s side even before the debate, added to predictable Muslims and Christians. The BJP tries to reach out to the minority religious communities more for the sake of moderate Hindus — the majority — who get turned off by communal politics, but fortunately for the BJP, this has not happened.

Ethnic question: Advantage opposition

While the SP-BSP-RLD combine has thrown a formidable challenge at the NDA in Uttar Pradesh, the BJP may well manage to get the non-Yadav OBC votes and non-Jatav Dalit votes. One can only wait and watch whether the Jats of western UP are still upset with the BJP for Yogi Adityanath’s failure to withdraw the police cases against Jat youths arrested for the Muzaffarnagar riots, which many in the party had promised to the community.

However, the Dalits and Yadavs are mutual rivals in the society of Uttar Pradesh. If the murmurs of protest against the SP-BSP alliance grow into a crescendo, the mahagathbandhan will prove a bad idea for the non-BJP, non-Congress front — more so if the Congress, which is not a part of the alliance, claims its traditional votes.

The Citizenship Amendment Bill has the potential to devastate the BJP in the Northeast. An otherwise seasoned Himanta Biswa Sarma’s defence of the bill is hardly cutting ice among the voters, as the ruling party tries to make a distinction between illegal immigrants who have fled persecution in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan and infiltrators who have sneaked into India either for economic reasons or for terrorism.

To an average Assamese at least, if not to the population in the rest of the region, the identity of Assam is paramount; being Hindu or Muslim is secondary. They had more or less welcomed the NRC that sought to keep out all non-Indians, but cannot accept the citizenship bill that lets Hindus among the infiltrators stay.

Despite knowing this, the BJP cannot withdraw the bill because the pledge of safeguarding persecuted Hindus from all over the world is a plank that works in the rest of India.

A section of the upper castes, especially Brahmins, are terribly upset with the BJP for the amendment in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act that upturned the Supreme Court verdict on the law. This will affect the ruling party, too, unless the general category quota neutralises it.

Corruption: Advantage NDA

In 2014 elections, the Congress was the worst sufferer. It faced the biggest defeat ever. PM Modi has done his best in this term to ensure the BJP cannot be accused of presiding over corruption or helplessly watching it.

Even harping on Rafale has not helped Rahul Gandhi as the allegation did not stick, with just one media house or two that are pathologically against this government publishing half-baked stories on the issue.

Efficiency in handling social media: Advantage BJP

The issue was that of an early beginner’s advantage in 2014. Twitter and Facebook looked at important players in the election. Social media was used extensively in setting up the agenda. Five years ago, the greatest credit for Modi’s victory was given to social media. After this, Congress also tried to fulfil this shortcoming.

But the Congress would be wrong to turn complacent based on the number of retweets a tweet of their president gets, as the numbers are artificially shot up using bots. In comparison, the social media cells of the TMC in Bengal and the AAP in Delhi are smarter.

The trolling in Bengali by TMC supporters on Facebook is vicious while the AAP has some of the naughtiest kids on the job who know all the tricks of Twitter. However, while the TMC is confined to Bengal, the AAP’s chances even in Delhi cannot be taken for granted. At an all-India level, the BJP has no competition on this front.

Charisma: Advantage NDA

The BJP is sure that under the leadership of Amit Shah, Modi’s most trusted lieutenant and a hard taskmaster, the party will succeed in transforming the PM’s goodwill into votes. BJP’s enthusiasm has increased after the Balakot airstrikes.

At the same time, Congress believes that Modi’s charisma is no longer like it was in 2014 because election promises were not fulfilled. The opposition will stress promises that are not fulfilled to reduce the Modi ‘magic’.

Two factors go against the Congress. In Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, it has lost the advantage of anti-incumbency against the BJP. Further, in MP and Rajasthan, the margins of victory in the Assembly elections were low.

There is no Shivraj Singh Chouhan to give false assurance to his party leadership that he could pull off a victory in his State single-handedly. There is no Vasundhara Raje infamous for “8 PM no CM”. Modi and Shah are expected to cover more ground in these States now than what they did before the Vidhan Sabha elections.

Finally, throughout the period of Modi’s prominence in Gujarat and national politics, it has been seen that hurling abuses at him strengthens him further. People take offence to the sight and sound of allegations against Modi.

Cow: Horns locked

This is a favourite issue in the Hindutva section of BJP’s core voters. However, it threatens to alienate Dalits, some of whom trade in cattle and are also beef eaters.

In the 2014 elections, the BJP had talked of banning illegal cow-slaughter. It did work in favour of the party, but after its implementation, resentment was witnessed among a section where dairy products from a cow till it lives as well as the skin of the animal after it dies is essential to the sustenance of the micro-economy.

India happens to be an exporter of beef, much as the commitment to foreign markets is fulfilled mostly with buffalo meat. But beef consumption being against a core belief in Hinduism, continuing with its export makes the ruling party come across as hypocritical.

Leadership: Advantage BJP

Like in 2014, the BJP will fight this election keeping Modi in the front. The opposition may complain this is not a democracy, but that is not how the Indian society works, where every movement needs a face to succeed.

The BJP will raise the issue that the opposition parties have no face for the PM that all agree to, or has too many contenders for the post. The Congress and the elusive third front can say that a coalition better serves the diverse society of India.

Young voters: Diminishing returns for all

Young voters are going to play a key role in this election. The party that promises packages for the youth and also fields many young people will be preferred. It is believed that the youth, who are closely monitoring the issues through social media, will choose somebody wisely. A person who is voting for the first time may not be worried about employment alone; he or she may be affected by other things.

This constituency may, however, not be a decider. For the past decade or so, due to more and more youth evincing interest in politics, many young people have got divided into different camps. They will be guided by the respective parties rather than be free to make choices based on their own discretion based on, in turn, their knowledge of current affairs.

If “youth” is an issue, the Modi government enjoys an advantage. If it is just a section of the electorate, it’s not going to favour any formation en masse.

Women: Rural favour NDA

Women, constituting roughly half of the country’s population, may play a key role in this election. The Centre has taken steps like building toilets, providing the poor with LPG gas and a stringent anti-rape law. This gives the BJP the confidence it will get women’s votes.

The urban women voters are as divided as their male counterparts, and need not particularly have their gender in mind while voting.

“Woman” has so far not become an issue in this election. But any loose comment by a politician about women can turn the election against the party to which the leader belongs, especially at the urban centres.

Dalits and tribal population: Advantage opposition

The suicide of Rohith Vemula may be a big issue with the media and communists; what the BJP must worry about is the violence during the Bharat Bandh. Vemula is not an issue because his caste credentials were doubtful. But the ‘successful’ strike by the lower castes is an issue because it attracted Dalits cutting across party lines.

The defeat of the BJP in Chhattisgarh and the decision to evict tribal people from the forests of Jharkhand go against the incumbent.

“Dalit” will remain an issue in all elections in the foreseeable future. As of now, it favours leftist parties. This will prove disadvantageous to the BJP in southern India, especially Tamil Nadu. Its position in Karnataka is healthy, with the JD(S)-Congress facing anti-incumbency.