Indians head to the polls in world’s biggest election

0
26

NEW DELHI
Indian voters headed to the polls on Friday for the first phase of the world’s biggest general election, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is aiming for a rare third consecutive term.
More than 968 million people are registered to vote, with polling taking place over the next six weeks, as results are expected on June 4.
After April 19, the other voting dates will be April 26, May 7, May 13, May 20, May 25 and June 1, with some states completing the process on a single day, and others having it spread out in several phases.
Friday’s polling was held in 21 states and union territories, including the most populous ones such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra, as well as smaller northeastern states and the northern Himalayan territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
In Kashmir, this is the first election since its special autonomous status and statehood were scrapped through the Indian government’s controversial constitutional amendment in 2019.
Chief Election Commissioner of India Rajiv Kumar told reporters on Friday that 168.6 million people were expected to cast their ballots on Friday.
“The preparations started, actually, two years back. Wide range of preparations … It’s a tremendous exercise,” he said.
MAIN CONTENDERS
More than 2,600 political parties are registered in the marathon election and 543 contested seats in the lower house of Parliament. The party or coalition that wins at least 272 is going to form the government.
Modi is targeting 400 seats for the National Democratic Alliance led by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power since 2014.
He is challenged by an alliance of two dozen opposition parties — the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, or INDIA, led by the Congress Party, which has ruled the country for close to 45 years since its independence in 1947.
The key leader of the opposition coalition is Rahul Gandhi — the son of Rajiv Gandhi, a grandson of Indira Gandhi, and a great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru, all of whom served as prime ministers of India.
While the opposition is trying to appeal to Indian youth with promises to tackle unemployment, free education and medical facilities, the BJP has deployed the same tactics as in previous polls — by mobilizing voters through majoritarian Hindu sentiment, despite constitutional provisions that make it a secular state.
Opinion polls show Modi as frontrunner, with 48 percent of respondents in the most recent survey released by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies last week naming him as their choice for the prime minister. Gandhi was second, preferred by 27 percent.
“Modi has created an image of a powerful leader, a leader who is not only popular in India but outside too. He has also created an image of not pandering to Muslim communities in India … This image of a leader who does not appease the Muslim sentiments appeals to the Hindu masses. Politics of polarization helps Modi to build an image and aura among a large section of the Hindu voters,” Prof. Venkat Narayan, political analyst and commentator, told Arab News.
“Then the use of social media and the mainstream media is also there to create an image and broaden Modi’s appeal. The media plays a great role in creating this image, they are soft towards Modi and do not ask critical questions.”
If Modi wins the election, he will become the second prime minister, after Nehru, to succeed in three consecutive polls.
“Modi is leading in the polls as he has created an image of doing a lot for different sections of the society. Besides, he projects himself as squeaky clean. People also think that as he has no children, he has no reason to be corrupt or be on the take,” Sanjay Kapoor, analyst and editor of the English-language political magazine Hardnews, told Arab News.
“There are other reasons for his popularity, which include adroit use of media and social media that control all criticism against him. Then there are issues of raising India’s global profile and pursuing an independent foreign policy.”