Indians vote in third phase of election

MANDATE::Voting was taking place in 13 states and two Union Territories in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP claimed more than half of parliamentary seats in 2014


Wed, Apr 24, 2019 - Page 5

Indians were yesterday voting in the third phase of the country’s general election, amid campaigning by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party and an opposition that has been marred by bitter accusations and acrimony.

People lined up outside voting stations at several places even before the polling started at 7am.

The voting for 117 parliamentary seats in 13 states and two Union Territories means polls are half-finished for 543 seats in the lower house of parliament.

The voting over seven phases ends on May 19, with counting scheduled to begin on May 23.

The election is seen as a referendum on Modi’s five-year rule. He has adopted a nationalist pitch to try to win the majority Hindu votes by projecting a tough stance against Muslim neighbor Pakistan.

The opposition is challenging him for a high unemployment rate of 6.1 percent and farmers’ distress aggravated by low crop prices.

Modi voted in his home state of Gujarat, although he is contesting for a parliamentary seat in Varanasi, a city in Uttar Pradesh.

In an apparent reference to attacks in neighboring Sri Lanka on Sunday, Modi told reporters: “The weapon of terrorism is IED [improvised explosive device] and the strength of democracy is voter ID [identity document]. I can say with surety that the voter ID is much more powerful than an IED.”

Campaigning in the multiphase election ends 48 hours before voting in a particular area.

Yesterday’s voting is important for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which won more than half of the 117 seats from these states in the 2014 elections that voted it to power. Its performance will have a bearing on its bid to retain power in New Delhi.

The voting was also taking place in Wayanad constituency in Kerala state, one of the two seats from which opposition Indian National Congress party president Rahul Gandhi is contesting.

His home bastion, Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh, is to vote on May 6. He would give up one seat if he wins in both places.

The voting is staggered to facilitate movement of security forces to oversee an orderly election and avoid vote fraud.

The autonomous Indian Election Commission last week intervened to block hate speeches by imposing a temporary ban on campaigning by some top politicians across political parties.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath of the BJP was barred from campaigning in public meetings, road shows or media interviews for three days for making anti-Muslim speeches.

A Hindu god would ensure the BJP victory in elections, while the opposition was betting on Muslim votes, he said.

Mayawati, a leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party who goes by one name, was punished for 48 hours for appealing to Muslims to vote only for her party.

The Indian Supreme Court ordered strict action against politicians for religion and caste-based remarks.

Hindus comprise 80 percent and Muslims 16 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people. The opposition has accused the BJP of trying to polarize the Hindu votes in its favor.

Meenakshi Lekhi, a BJP leader, filed a contempt of court petition against Gandhi in the Supreme Court for misrepresenting a court order while accusing Modi of corruption in a deal to buy 36 French Dassault Rafale jet fighters.

Modi has denied the charge.

Modi has used the divided region of Kashmir to pivot away from his economic record, playing up the threat of Pakistan, especially after a suicide bombing of a paramilitary convoy on Feb. 14 that killed 40 soldiers, in a bid to appear a strong, uncompromising leader on national security.

The bombing brought India and Pakistan close to the brink of war.

Opposition parties have consistently said that Modi and his party leaders are digressing from the main issues such as youth employment and farmers’ suicides.