Women get ready to vote at a polling station in Bhudi, Haryana, India, on Sunday. Reuters
Resmi Sivaram / Reuters
Voters in north India lined up early on Sunday to cast their ballots in the second-to-last round of a seven-phase general election, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi facing a diverse group of opposition parties seeking to deny him a second term.
More than 100 million people across seven states voted on Sunday.
Voter enthusiasm did not rise sky-high in the sixth phase of Lok Sabha polls. As per Election Commission’s primary figures available at 6pm, 59.9 per cent votes were polled in 59 parliamentary seats across seven states, involving a total of over 101.7 million voters.
However, Bengal recorded a turnout much higher than other states: 79.9 per cent as of 6pm. The fate of 979 candidates was sealed on Sunday. Voting was generally peaceful except in Bengal, one state, which has seen a higher turnout and violence in all phases.
The 39-day-long poll kicked off on April 11 with Modi as front-runner after an escalation of tension with neighbouring Pakistan. But opposition parties have taken heart at what they see as signs Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may be losing ground and have begun negotiations over a post-election alliance even before polling ends on May 19. Votes will be counted on May 23.
The president of the main opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, said the main issues in the election were unemployment, economic hardship in the countryside, the de-monetisation of bank notes and a new sales tax.
“It was a good fight,” Gandhi said after he cast his vote.
“Narendra Modi used hatred, we used love. And I think love is going to win. The people are our maalik (boss). We will accept the people’s mandate.” “There are four issues in this election, these are not our issues but people’s issues. And the most important among these is of unemployment. Then, condition of farmers, demonetisation, Gabbar Singh Tax (mocking GST), corruption and the Rafale issue,” Rahul added. Among those who voted include Union Minister Sushma Swaraj and Delhi Chief Minister and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal. “Voting is your right and responsibility towards nation building. Go vote,” tweeted Kohli while sharing a picture of himself flashing his inked finger.
A lack of new jobs — despite annual economic growth of about 7% — and the plight of farmers struggling with falling crop prices have been major worries for voters.
A new goods and GST, as well as Modi’s shock ban on all high-value currency notes in 2016, hurt small and medium businesses.
In West Bengal, where voter turnout was the highest at nearly 70%, the electoral process was marred by violence as BJP candidate Bharati Ghosh was allegedly attacked and chased by supporters of the ruling Trinamool Congress party.
Violence in Bengal started late on Saturday when one BJP worker was killed and two shot at in separate incidents even under heavy presence of para military forces in the state.
In a letter to the state’s election commission, the BJP complained against the attacks and cited “widespread booth capturing and rigging.”
Some voters in the capital, New Delhi, said they were backing Modi because they were won over by his tough stance on security.
The aggressive response stirred nationalist passions that pollsters said could favour Modi in the election.
“I have voted for Modi’s sound foreign policy and national security,” said a 36-year old first-time voter who declined to be named.
“The de-monetisation has affected jobs growth, but over time the positive effects of GST and de-monetisation would take care of jobs,” he said.
But concern about unemployment and crop prices have put the BJP on the back foot, and the opposition has in recent days felt more upbeat about its chances.
Political analysts say state-based and caste-driven parties could be decisive in determining the make-up of the next government.
“Regional parties will play a bigger role compared to the previous 5 years or even 15 years,” said K.C. Suri, a political science professor at the University of Hyderabad. “They will regain their importance in national politics.”
Recent weeks have also been marked by personal attacks between leaders, including comments from Modi about the family of Congress President Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty.
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