Friday, 19 April 2019

India election 2019: Voting begins in world’s largest election

Al Jazeera

NEW DELHI: Indians have turned out in big numbers to vote in the first phase of mammoth general elections, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a second term. The first phase covers an electorate of 142 million voters across 20 states and federal territories, who will decide the fate of 91 candidates. Almost 900 million of India’s 1.3 billion people are eligible to vote.

The Election Commission said voters were also turning out in large numbers in an eastern district where Maoist rebels were blamed for a bomb attack on Tuesday, which killed a state legislator from Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and four security officials.

In the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, a supporter of the ruling Telugu Desam Party died in a clash outside a polling booth. Raziul Nasir, 53, an accountant at a construction company, said concerns about his children’s future would determine his vote. “All I want is that people who are spreading hatred should be defeated,” Nasir told Al Jazeera.

Naresh Kumar, a 43-year-old voter in Bishada village of Dadri in Gautam Buddha Nagar constituency, said he wanted the BJP to return. Bishada witnessed India’s first cow-related lynching in 2015 that caused an outcry.

“Modi has done a lot of work,” Kumar, who works for National Thermal Power Corporation in Dadri, told Al Jazeera. Sachin Tyagi, a mobile phone shop owner from Uttar Pradesh, said Modi has “improved India’s global standing and taken revenge against the enemies of the country”. “I am happy with Modi-ji but the employment situation could be improved,” he said. Al Jazeera’s Nadim Asrar, reporting from Noida, a suburb of New Delhi, said voters were turning out slowly.

“There’s a slow but steady trickle of voters at a polling booth in a middle-class neighbourhood of Noida. Security personnel guard the gates of a community centre where the polling is being conducted.” Eight constituencies in western Uttar Pradesh saw over 11 percent voting before 9am.

Shailendra Pratap Singh, Additional District Magistrate of Ghaziabad adjoining Noida, told Al Jazeera that voting was going on smoothly in the constituency. “Generally there is brisk voting either in the morning or between 4 and 6 pm,” he said.

Two people were also killed on Tuesday in Indian-administered Kashmir, a Muslim majority region, prompting authorities to increase security even further. Shops and schools were closed in Kashmir and roads mostly clear of traffic after separatists called a strike against the election.

Modi, 68, is the front-runner but he faces a tough challenge from Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the opposition Congress party, who has attempted to capitalise on the Modi government’s poor record on jobs and rural poverty.

Because of the vastness of India, the election is being held in seven phases from the tea plantations of Darjeeling to the slums of Mumbai to the tropical Andaman Islands, and everywhere in between. The elections will conclude on May 19. Results will be announced on May 23.

More than 11 million election officials, including security forces, will be deployed across one million polling stations to conduct “the biggest management event of any kind”.

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.

“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.

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