Indians start voting in first phase of elections

Election is seen as one of most consequential in India’s history and will test limits of Modi’s political dominance.

NEW DELHI (AP): Millions of Indians began voting Friday in a six-week election that’s a referendum on Narendra Modi, the populist prime minister who has championed an assertive brand of Hindu nationalist politics and is seeking a rare third term as the country’s leader.

People began queuing up at polling stations hours before they were allowed in at 7 a.m. in the first 21 states to hold votes, from the Himalayan mountains to the tropical Andaman Islands. Nearly 970 million voters — more than 10% of the world’s population — will elect 543 members to the lower house of Parliament for five years during the staggered elections that run until June 1. The votes will be counted on June 4. This election is seen as one of the most consequential in India’s history and will test the limits of Modi’s political dominance. 

If Modi wins, he’ll be only the second Indian leader to retain power for a third term, after Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister.

Most polls predict a win for Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, who are up against a broad opposition alliance led by the Indian National Congress and powerful regional parties.

It’s not clear who will lead India if the opposition alliance, called INDIA, wins the election. Its more than 20 parties have not put forward a candidate yet.

The BJP controls much of India’s Hindi-speaking northern and central parts, but is now trying to gain a foothold in the east and south. Their toughest challenge is in the southern Tamil Nadu state, with 39 seats, where voting is being held Friday.

Voters in hot and humid Chennai, the state’s capital, began briskly filling the city’s nearly 4,000 polling booths. A number of them said they were voting for a change in federal government given rising prices, unemployment and religious polarization stoked by the BJP.

“First thing I came to vote for is to have a country without any religious disharmony. In Tamil Nadu — Hindus, Muslims, Christians, we’re all together. And this unity should grow,” said 65-year-old Mary Das, who was waiting to vote.

P. Chidambaram, an opposition Congress party leader and the country’s former finance minister, said that the people of Tamil Nadu would not vote for the BJP as “it is imposing one language, one culture, one system and one kind of food.”

The BJP has long struggled to capture votes in the state, where two powerful regional parties — the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam — dominate. The BJP drew a blank in 2019, and won one seat in 2014. In Rajasthan, people returning from polling stations covered their heads against dusty winds.

“If the new government is able to solve unemployment, then it will be good. People are migrating from this region to earn a living,” said Atinder Singh, 26.

Comments are closed.