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Lok Sabha election 2024: India begins voting in mammoth polls

NEW DELHI (AP) — Millions of Indians began voting Friday in a six-week election that is a referendum on Narendra Modithe populist prime minister who defended an assertive brand of Hindu nationalist politics and is seeking a rare third term at the head of the country.

People began queuing outside polling stations hours before they were allowed to enter, at 7 a.m., the first 21 states to vote, from the Himalayan mountains to the tropical Andaman islands. Nearly 970 million voters, or more than 10% of the world’s population, will elect 543 members of the lower house of Parliament for five years during the next term. elections staggered until June 1. Votes will be counted on June 4.

The election is considered one of the most important in Indian history and will test the limits of Modi’s political dominance.

If Modi wins, he will 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 victory for Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, who face a broad opposition alliance led by the Indian National Congress and powerful regional parties.

It is not clear who will lead India if the opposition alliance, called INDIA, wins the election. Its more than 20 parties have yet to present a candidate.

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

In hot and humid Chennai, the state capital, voters began quickly filling the city’s nearly 4,000 polling booths. Several of them said they were voting for a change in federal government given rising prices, unemployment and religious polarization fueled by the BJP.

“The first thing I came to vote for is a country without religious discord. In Tamil Nadu, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, we are all together. And this unity must grow,” said Mary Das, 65, who was waiting to vote.

P. Chidambaram, leader of the opposition Congress party and the country’s former finance minister, said the people of Tamil Nadu would not vote for the BJP because “it imposes a language, a culture, a system and a type of food “.

The BJP has long struggled to capture votes in the state, where two powerful regional parties – Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam – dominate. The BJP lost in 2019 and won a seat in 2014.

In Rajasthan, people returning from polling stations covered their heads against the dusty winds.

“If the new government manages to solve the unemployment problem, it will be a good thing. People migrate from this area to earn a living,” said 26-year-old Atinder Singh.

Elections are also taking place in the northeastern state of Manipur, where a near-civil war has raged for a year. sparked ethnic violence. Crowds ransacked villages and burned homes, and more than 150 people were killed.

The election comes after a decade of Modi’s leadership, during which the BJP consolidated its power through a combination of Hindu politics and economic development.

Modi ramped up his Hindu nationalist rhetoric during his election campaign and sought to present yourself as a global leader. His ministers present him as the steward of a thriving India, while his supporters celebrate his election promise to make India a developed nation by 2047, when it will celebrate 100 years of independence.

But while India’s economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, many of its people face growing economic distress. The opposition alliance hopes to exploit this potential by seeking to galvanize voters on issues such as high unemploymentinflation, corruption and low agricultural prices which led to two years of farmers’ protests.

The opposition – and its critics – also warn that Modi has become increasingly illiberal. They accuse Modi of using the taxman and police to harass the opposition and fear a third term could undermine Indian democracy. Her Hindu nationalist politicsthey argue, has bred intolerance and threatens the country’s secular roots.

“Modi has a very authoritarian mindset. He doesn’t believe in democracy. He doesn’t believe in parliamentarism,” said Christophe Jaffrelot, a political scientist who has written on Modi and the Hindu right.

Modi insists that India’s commitment to democracy remains unchanged. He said at the Democracy Summit in New Delhi in March that “India not only meets the aspirations of its 1.4 billion people, but also gives the world hope that democracy delivers results and gives power.”

The Indian leader, who enjoys great popularity, is this time aiming for a two-thirds majority.

The BJP is hoping for a landslide victory thanks to its popular welfare programs, which it says have improved access to clean toilets, healthcare and cooking gas, as well as the provision of free grain to the poor. Moves like the construction of controversial temple in Ram at the site of a demolished mosque, and the demolition of the contested Muslim-majority region of The former autonomy of Kashmircould resonate with his supporters who hail him as the champion of the Hindu majority.

“Any party running for a third term, and with a raw majority, is a frightening prospect for democracy,” said Arati Jerath, a political commentator.

Modi’s two terms contributed to civil liberties in India to be attacked, while implementing what critics call discriminatory policies. Peaceful protests were forcefully suppressed. Once free and diversified the press is threatenedviolence increases against Muslim minorityand government agencies have opposition politicians arrested in cases of alleged corruption.

The BJP has denied its policies are discriminatory and says its work benefits all Indians.


AP writer Sibi Arasu contributed reporting from Chennai, India.

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