India election 2019: First phase voting begins in world’s largest election

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International desk, April 11: The majestic, colourful process of the Lok Sabha election in the world’s largest democracy, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made a hard pitch for a second term in power, has begun in India.Over the last five years, the BJP-led government has scripted a narrative around development, economic growth, welfare measure and national security, which has been capped by a US presidential-style campaign by PM Modi.

At the forefront of the opposition charge is a re-energised Congress led by Rahul Gandhi. The seven-phase election is the culmination of months of bitter, grueling political battle: 91 seats across 18 states and two Union territories are voting today. The last phase of elections will be held on May 19.

The counting of votes will be held on May 23.

The states of Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Uttarakhand, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, Lakshadweep, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Telangana are voting today in a single phase. Voting is also being held in parts of Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Manipur, Odisha, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Voting for assembly polls has begun in Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh and parts of Odisha.

A man gets his finger inked before casting his vote at a polling station in Majuli, a large river island in the Brahmaputra river, in the northeastern Indian state of Assam, India April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

In Uttar Pradesh, the state which sends the maximum number of lawmakers to Lok Sabha, voting is being held in eight of 80 seats. The key constituencies include Saharanpur, Kairana, Ghaziabad, Baghpat and Gautam Buddha Nagar. The Mayawati-Akhilesh Yadav-Ajit Singh combine is taking o the BJP in the state. The Congress is going it alone, setting up three-cornered contests on most seats.

Among the key leaders standing for election today are five Union Ministers – Nitin Gadkari (Nagpur), Kiren Rijiju (Arunachal West), General VK Singh (Ghaziabad), Satyapal Singh (Baghpat) and Mahesh Sharma (Gautam Buddha Nagar). Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhary are also in fray.

The BJP manifesto, announced three days ahead of the election has promised to pump in around Rs. 20 lakh crore into the farm sector and rural development, lower taxes for the middle class and vowed to spend around Rs.100 lakh crore on infrastructure to create much-needed jobs.

PM Modi has said he needs another term to fulfil his promises. “I don’t claim to have finished all the work. When they (Congress) cannot say so in 70 years, how can I make that claim in just five years? A lot has to be done, have potential to do a lot, and for this, there is a need for constant efforts,” he told an election rally in Bihar.

The Congress has come up with a bread and butter manifesto that addresses the concerns of the common man. Its centrepiece is what the party has called NYAY – an ambitious scheme to provide a minimum basic income of Rs. 72,000 a year for three years to the poorest of the poor.

Opinion polls show PM Modi retains his popularity, but his government has faced opposition criticism over its handling of the economy, failure to create jobs and the crisis in the farm sector. There has also been criticism over its failure to control the right-wing fringe groups and cow vigilantes that have gone on an overdrive, leading to multiple instances of mob killings across the country.

Over the last five years, the BJP, with a single-minded goal of “Congress-Mukt Bharat” has captured or consolidated power in 12 states. The new states won include all seven states of the northeast, and the heartland state of Uttar Pradesh.

Boosted by a victory in Punjab and a tough battle in Gujarat – the home state of PM Modi — the Congress managed to keep the BJP out of power in Karnataka last year.  In the last round of assembly polls in December, it won the heartland states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Source: News agencies and ndtv.com