India elections start today with nearly a billion voters and one man in focus

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on Apr 18, 2024
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  • India has an electorate exceeding 969 million people, including 18 million first-time voters.
  • PM Narendra Modi, known for his strongman image and Hindu nationalist policies, is eyeing a third term.
  • The 2024 election is projected to cost an unprecedented 1.2 trillion rupees (£12 billion).

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Starting April 19, India, the world’s most populous nation, will commence its extensive parliamentary elections.

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With the electorate exceeding 969 million people, including 18 million first-time voters, this election is not just a domestic event but a globally significant phenomenon.

The electoral process, adapted to India’s diverse and challenging geography, will unfold in seven phases across six weeks, culminating in votes being counted on June 4.

Indian elections: scale and cost

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Hosting the world’s largest election involves deploying over 15 million personnel to manage more than a million polling booths, some in the most remote areas accessible only by animals or boats.

The 2024 election is projected to cost an unprecedented 1.2 trillion rupees (£12 billion), nearly double the expenditure of the 2019 elections.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in focus

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi, known for his strongman image and Hindu nationalist policies, has significantly altered India’s political landscape.

His government’s focus on religious and nationalistic themes combined with substantial infrastructure projects aims to solidify a broader base of support across diverse Indian demographics.

Modi’s visibility is bolstered by widespread presence in media and public welfare initiatives named after him, enhancing his appeal as a populist leader.

Many observers believe that if the Modi-led BJP retains or even expands its strong parliamentary majority, it will swiftly move to further implement the core policies of its Hindu nationalist agenda, as it did following the 2019 election victories.

This push has already polarized society significantly, and a third term could see an even greater emphasis on these divisive strategies.

A critical and controversial promise of the BJP has been the implementation of a uniform civil code across India. Proponents argue that a uniform code would replace personal laws based on the scriptures and customs of major religious communities with a common set governing every citizen.

Critics, however, fear that this could erode the rights of minorities to freely practice their religion and culture, potentially leading to a homogenization of diverse cultural practices under a majoritarian rule.

There is a growing apprehension that a third term for Modi might lead to increased authoritarianism. Observers point to what they describe as democratic backsliding over the last few years, with increased control over institutions, suppression of dissent, and curtailment of press freedoms.

The fear is that these trends might not only continue but intensify, moving India further away from the democratic principles it has long cherished.

Perhaps the most significant concern among Modi’s critics is the possibility that a dominant BJP majority in Parliament could lead to amendments to India’s secular constitution.

The party’s goal of winning 400 seats is seen as a step towards achieving the requisite majority for constitutional amendments, which could potentially reshape the country into a Hindu-first nation.

This prospect raises fundamental questions about the future of secularism and pluralistic democracy in India.

Will BJP’s dominance be questioned?

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The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), under Modi’s leadership, is aiming for an ambitious victory margin in the 543-seat parliament, building on its strong majority from the 2019 elections.

The BJP’s extensive grassroots network and superior financial resources give it a distinct advantage over its rivals, although the party faces challenges in states with persistent unemployment and inflation issues.

How is the Opposition placed?

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The opposition parties confront significant challenges, including intense scrutiny from state agencies and internal divisions, which have weakened them considerably.

The Congress party, once a dominant force, now struggles with an image of elitism and has been losing ground to BJP, which has effectively portrayed itself as a more dynamic alternative.

Efforts to unite the opposition, including the formation of a 27-party coalition known as the India coalition, have been marred by leadership disputes and defections, further diluting their effectiveness.

Adding to their woes, prominent opposition figures, such as Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, have been embroiled in legal battles, including arrests on charges they claim are politically motivated, and the Congress party has accused the government of freezing its accounts to cripple its campaigning efforts.

Despite the BJP’s strong hold in the Hindi belt of northern India, it faces resistance in the eastern and southern regions, where local sentiments and cultural identities differ significantly from the north.

These challenges highlight the uphill battle the opposition faces in mounting a credible challenge to Modi’s bid for a third term, underscoring the deep divisions and political dynamics that will influence the upcoming elections.

Voter concerns remain

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While Modi’s campaign emphasizes economic growth and development, critics argue that wealth disparities are widening and job opportunities are insufficient.

Source: Statista

The opposition hopes to capitalize on these issues, focusing on the lack of employment for youth, high inflation rates, and alleged crony capitalism under the current administration.

Congress has proposed progressive measures like a nationwide caste census and legal recognition for civil partnerships among LGBTQ+ couples.

Will the elections be fair?

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Despite India’s strong tradition of democratic elections, recent actions by the Modi government have led to accusations of compromising electoral fairness.

Changes in the administration of the Election Commission and concerns over electronic voting machine security are prominent issues raised by the opposition and international observers.

As India votes, the outcome of these elections will not only shape the nation’s future but also its role on the world stage, affecting international alignments and economic policies.

The world watches as India decides whether to continue on the path set by Modi or to consider alternative visions proposed by a fragmented opposition.

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