Indians vote on Jobs, Hindu pride, and Modi

April 20, 2024 8:27 am

[Source: Reuters]

The first of India’s almost one billion voters cast ballots on Friday in the country’s multi-day election, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a rare third term on the back of issues such as growth, welfare and Hindu nationalism.

The vote pits Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against an alliance of two dozen opposition parties that promise greater affirmative action and more handouts while stressing what they call the need to save democratic institutions.

Nearly 970 million people are eligible to vote in the seven-phase exercise, the world’s largest election, which runs through the peak of summer until June 1, with results set for June 4.

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Election Commission figures after polls closed on Friday’s first day of voting estimated voter turnout at 60%, with the small northeastern state of Tripura top of the list at 80% and the northwestern state of Rajasthan at the bottom with 51%.

Friday’s vote covered 166 million voters in 102 constituencies across 21 states and territories, from Tamil Nadu in the south to Arunachal Pradesh on the Himalayan frontier with China.

Opinion polls have suggested the BJP will easily win a majority, even though voters worry about unemployment, inflation and rural distress in the world’s most populous country and fastest growing major economy.

Jobs were the chief concern for Mohammed Shabbir, another Muslim voter in Kairana. None of his eight children had regular employment, the 60-year-old driver said.

Hindu nationalism is a key election theme, especially after Modi’s consecration of a grand temple to Lord Ram in January on a site in Uttar Pradesh believed to be his birthplace, more than three decades after a Hindu mob destroyed a 16th-century mosque that had stood there, leading to nationwide religious riots.

In 2019, the Supreme Court handed over the land to Hindus and ordered allotment of a separate plot to Muslims to build a new mosque.

Critics accuse Modi’s government and party of treating India’s 200 million minority Muslims unfairly to please their hardline Hindu base – an accusation that both deny.

Modi aims to win 370 of parliament’s 543 seats, up from 303 in 2019, hoping for a two-thirds majority that some analysts and opposition members fear could let his party usher in far-reaching constitutional changes.