Tuesday, June 18, 2019 | ePaper

Modi favourite as India's incredible election begins

  • Print


Voters line up to cast their votes outside a polling station during the first phase of general election in Alipurduar district in the eastern state of West Bengal in India on Thursday.

AFP, New Delhi :
India's gargantuan election, the biggest in history, kicked off on Thursday with Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a second term from the South Asian behemoth's 900 million voters.
Opinion polls put Modi, 68, as the favourite but he faces a tough challenge from not one but two scions of India's storied Nehru-Gandhi dynasty attempting to capitalise on his poor record on jobs and rural poverty.
Because of the vastness of India, the election will be held in seven phases, from the tea plantations of Darjeeling to the slums of Mumbai to the tropical Andaman Islands, and everywhere in between.
Security forces were on high alert due to the perennial danger of violence at election time, with five people including a local lawmaker killed in an ambush by suspected Maoist rebels this week.
Thousands of parties and candidates will run for office between now and May 19 in 543 constituencies across the nation of 1.3 billion people, with results not due until May 23.
Some of the 1.1 million electronic voting machines will be transported through jungles and carried up mountains, including to a hamlet near the Chinese border with just one voter.
Phase one on Thursday saw some 142 million people - including 7,764 transgender voters, eligible to register as such for the first time - able to cast ballots.
Polling stations in the northeast were among the first to open at 7:00 am (0130 GMT) with others elsewhere set to follow at 8:00 am.
"I call upon all those whose constituencies are voting in the first phase today to turn out in record numbers and exercise their franchise," Modi said in a tweet just after voting began.
"I specially urge young and first-time voters to vote in large numbers," he said.
Modi and his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power in 2014 with their famous promise of "achhe din" ("good days"), becoming the first party to win an absolute majority in 30 years.
Critics say the BJP has since sought to impose a Hindu agenda on India, emboldening attacks on Muslims and low-caste Dalits trading in beef - cows being holy for Hindus - and re-writing school textbooks.
Modi has simplified the tax code and made doing business easier but some of his promises have fallen short, particularly in rural areas where thousands of indebted farmers have killed themselves in recent years.
Growth in Asia's third-biggest economy has been too slow to provide jobs for the roughly one million Indians entering the labour market each month, and unemployment is reportedly at its highest since the 1970s.
Rahul Gandhi, 48, hoping to become the latest prime minister from his dynasty - and aided by sister Priyanka - has accused Modi of causing a "national disaster".
Gandhi's Congress party has profited from voter dissatisfaction, winning in December three key state elections, chipping into Modi's core support base in the Hindi-speaking heartland of northern India.
Gandhi, the great-grandson, grandson and son of three past premiers, has
grown in stature since being derided in leaked US diplomatic cables in 2007
as an "empty suit".
Election adverts show him hugging an emaciated peasant woman, while Congress's leftist manifesto pledges to end abject poverty by 2030 and give cash transfers to 50 million families.
But Modi and the BJP's formidable campaign juggernaut - backed by a savvy social media army - will be no pushover, promising a $1.4-trillion infrastructure blitz.
Playing to its Hindu base, the BJP has also committed to building a grand temple in place of a Muslim mosque demolished by Hindu mobs in the northern city of Ayodhya in 1992.
But most importantly, India's latest military altercation with arch-rival Pakistan in February has allowed Modi to portray himself as the "chowkidar" ("watchman") protecting mother India.
"Nationalism is our inspiration and inclusion and good governance is our mantra," Modi, whose stern bearded face stares out from ubiquitous posters, said at the launch of his manifesto.
But opinion polls are notoriously unreliable in India and much will depend on the BJP's performance in several key states, in particular Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
"It's difficult to predict," said Parsa Venkateshwar Rao, a veteran journalist and political commentator.
"It reminds me of 2004 when (premier Atal Bihari) Vajpayee and the BJP lost when everyone expected them to win," he told AFP.
Mr Gandhi's Congress party has profited from voter dissatisfaction, winning in December three key state elections, chipping at Mr Modi's core support base in the Hindi-speaking heartland of northern India.

More News For this Category

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong leaves jail, vows to join protests

Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong leaves jail, vows to join protests

AFP, Hong Kong :Leading Hong Kong democracy activist Joshua Wong walked free from prison Monday and vowed to join historic anti-government protests rocking the finance hub, as activists kept up

Vatican formally opens debate on married priests in Amazon

Vatican formally opens debate on married priests in Amazon

AP, Vatican City :The Vatican formally opened debate Monday on letting married men be ordained as priests in remote parts of the Amazon where priests are so few that Catholics

Indian doctors’ strike over violence from patients and families

Indian doctors’ strike over violence from patients and families

AFP, New Delhi :Tens of thousands of Indian doctors went on strike Monday calling for more protection against violence by patients and their families, as parliament met for the first

"Khashoggi death painful, stop exploiting case": Saudi Crown Prince

 AFP, Riyadh :Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has warned against "exploiting" the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi for political gains, in what appeared to be a veiled attack on

Pakistani blogger, activist, known for criticism of army, killed

Pakistani blogger, activist, known for criticism of army, killed

PTI, Islamabad :A 22-year-old Pakistani blogger and journalist known for criticising the country's military and the spy agency ISI was killed by a man in Islamabad, the police said today.Muhammad

News In Brief

Israel to attend US ME peace conferenceAFP, JerusalemIsrael will attend an upcoming conference on the economic aspects of Washington's peace plan aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Foreign Minister Israel

Over 40pc of newly elected Indian lawmakers facing criminal charges

Over 40pc of newly elected Indian lawmakers facing criminal charges

AP, New Delhi :India's recent national election delivered a historic victory to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist party, but also exposed the influence of money, power and questionable morality

Trump in new attack on London's Mayor calls Sadiq Khan a ‘disaster’

Trump in new attack on London's Mayor calls Sadiq Khan a ‘disaster’

US President Donald Trump launched a fresh attack Saturday on London Mayor Sadiq Khan, calling for him to be replaced as soon as possible."LONDON needs a new mayor ASAP. Khan

Saudi Crown Prince lashes out at arch-rival Iran over tanker attacks

Saudi Crown Prince lashes out at arch-rival Iran over tanker attacks

AFP, Riyadh :Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accused arch-rival Iran of attacks on oil tankers in a vital Gulf shipping channel, adding he "won't hesitate" to tackle any threats

Far-right seeks control of German town favoured by Hollywood

Far-right seeks control of German town favoured by Hollywood

AFP, Gorlitz :The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is battling to win the mayor's office in a bellwether election on Sunday at a town in the former East Germany