Fri, Apr 12, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Indians start voting in massive election

EVERY VOTE COUNTS:Some of the 1.1 million electronic voting machines are to be carried into rural regions, including a hamlet near the Chinese border with one voter


The scion of the Gandhi dynasty yesterday told Indians that the country’s “soul” was at stake, as millions braved the hot sun to vote on day one of the world’s biggest election.

Opinion polls put Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the favorite to win, but he faces a possible backlash from India’s 900 million voters over unemployment and rural poverty.

Due to India’s vastness, yesterday marked just the first of seven phases in the election to take place 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.

Online too, a war rages with social media awash with disinformation, fake news, trolls and bots in what is Facebook and WhatsApp’s biggest market, where the world’s cheapest data tariffs have fueled a smartphone boom.

Thousands of parties and candidates are to 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 are to be transported through jungles and carried up mountains, including to a hamlet near the Chinese border with just one voter.

About 142 million people are able to cast ballots in phase one. Polling stations in northeastern states like Arunachal Pradesh bordering China were the first to open, followed by parts of Bihar in the north — where women in multicolored saris lined up — and Jammu and Kashmir in the Himalayas.

In northeast Assam, lines started forming 45 minutes before voting began, including many young people — there are 84 million first-time voters in this election — who were visibly excited.

“It’s a great feeling to cast the vote, which makes me a part of the democratic system and makes me responsible for electing a good leader who can run the country,” 23-year-old Anurag Baruah told reporters.

Modi urged in a morning tweet to his almost 47 million followers for voters to “turn out in record numbers and exercise their franchise.”

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 have said that the BJP has since sought to impose a Hindu agenda on India, emboldening attacks on Muslims and low-caste Dalits trading in beef — cows are holy for Hindus — rewriting school textbooks and renaming cities.

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 the past few years.

Growth in Asia’s third-biggest economy has been too slow to provide jobs for the about 1 million Indians entering the job 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.”

“No JOBS. DEMONETISATION. Farmers in Pain... Lies. Lies. Lies. Distrust. Violence. HATE. Fear,” Gandhi said on Twitter. “You vote today for the soul of India. For her future. Vote wisely.”

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