Big numbers turn out for first day of India’s giant election

MUZAFFARNAGAR, India (Reuters) – Indians turned out in big numbers to vote in the first phase of a mammoth general election on Thursday, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a second term after campaigning on his national security record amid tensions with rival Pakistan.

People wait in a queue to cast their votes outside a polling station during the first phase of general election on the outskirts of Jammu April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta

Reuters reporters saw long queues outside many polling stations. The Election Commission said voters were also turning out in large numbers in an eastern district where Maoist insurgents were blamed for a bomb attack on Tuesday, which killed a state legislator from Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and four security officials.

Two people were also killed on Tuesday in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, prompting authorities to increase security even further. Shops and schools were closed in the disputed region of Kashmir and roads mostly clear of traffic after separatists called a strike against the election.

Shadab Ali, an 18-year-old first-time voter in the volatile Muzaffarnagar constituency in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, queued with a group of friends at a polling station set up in a primary school. Hindu-Muslim riots there killed at least 65 people before the previous election in 2014.

“Modi has worked but not done enough for us,” said Ali, a Muslim. “We want development. I’ve voted for development.”

Voters came to three polling stations in Muzaffarnagar on foot, by bicycle and motorcycle, in cars and on tractors.

Voting in the first of seven rounds is being held in 91 parliament constituencies across 20 states and federally administered regions. There are 543 seats at stake.

Almost 900 million of India’s 1.3 billion people are eligible to vote. The first phase of voting covers an electorate of 142 million, some of whom will vote in pink booths staffed by female security personnel and polling officials.

The election is spread over 39 days, with the final phase on May 19 and the result announced four days later.

Modi’s BJP is the frontrunner despite economic distress over mounting unemployment and weak farm incomes in rural areas, where two-thirds of Indians live.

Modi said on Twitter as voting began that the mood was “firmly” in favour of his National Democratic Alliance (NDA), of which the BJP is the senior party. “NDA’s aim is – development, more development and all-round development,” he said.

NATIONALIST UPSURGE

Pollsters say support for the BJP rose in response to Modi’s tough stance against Pakistan. Aerial clashes between the nuclear-armed neighbours followed a Pakistan-based militant organisation’s suicide attack in February that killed 40 paramilitary police in Kashmir.

The main opposition Congress party has sought allies among regional parties to defeat the BJP over its economic record. Congress wrested three major farming states from the BJP in state polls in December by promising to waive the outstanding loans of distressed farmers.

“Vote for Congress, vote for you,” Congress said on Twitter, promising more jobs and “love over hate”.

However, the upsurge in nationalist fervour has undermined its strategy and helped 68-year-old Modi.

“He’s improved India’s global standing and taken revenge against the enemies of the country,” Sachin Tyagi, 38, a mobile phone shop owner, said near a polling station in Uttar Pradesh, which sends the most lawmakers to the lower house of parliament among all states.

“I am happy with Modi-ji but the employment situation could be improved,” he said.

DIVIDED OPPOSITION

Gilles Verniers, a political science professor at Ashoka University near New Delhi, said Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, would struggle to catch the BJP.

“The gap between Congress and the BJP is still enormous, so no one is seriously thinking that Congress is going to fill that gap,” he said. “The opposition landscape remains heavily fragmented.”

An average of four opinion polls showed the BJP alliance on course to win 273 of the 545 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, a much-reduced majority from the more than 330-seat margin it won in 2014. The Lok Sabha also includes two seats reserved for the Anglo-Indian community.

The BJP alone won a landslide 282 seats five years ago, securing a clear single-party majority for the first time in decades and raising hopes of economic reform after a period of sluggish growth.

Congress is trying to rebuild its appeal after winning only 44 seats in 2014 and has promised monthly handouts of 6,000 rupees ($86.59) for the poorest families.

It hopes to win enough seats to lure regional parties opposed to Modi after the election and form the government.

Slideshow (14 Images)

Anima Saikia, a 61-year-old voter in northeastern Assam state, said she was excited to participate in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.

“I’ve never missed my vote in my life,” she said. “This is the only time we can do something. The game is in our hand right now.”

($1=69.2900 Indian rupees)

Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Krishna N. Das; Additional reporting by Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESWAR, Zarir Hussain in GUWAHATI, Danish Siddiqui in ALIPURDUAR, Subrata Nagchoudhury in KOLKATA and Aftab Ahmed in NEW DELHI and Fayaz Bukhari in SRINAGAR and Adnan Abidi in MAJULI; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Paul Tait

Source

more recommended stories

  • Japanese police officer stabbed in possible targeted attack – NHK

    TOKYO (Reuters) – A Japanese police.

  • Magnitude 7.4 earthquake strikes Kermadec Islands in South Pacific: warning center

    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A 7.4 magnitude.

  • Iran summons UK envoy over ‘unfounded’ tanker accusations

    FILE PHOTO: An oil tanker is.

  • Jailed British-Iranian aid worker in Iran starts hunger strike – husband

    LONDON (Reuters) – A British-Iranian aid.

  • State sponsor behind May tanker attacks, says UAE minister

    FILE PHOTO: United Arab Emirates Foreign.

  • Russia’s Putin gives China’s Xi ice cream on his 66th birthday

    Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) toasts.

  • Hong Kong media say controversial extradition bill may be suspended

    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong.

  • Indian migrant girl, 6, died in Arizona desert as mother sought water

    (Reuters) – A six-year-old girl from.

  • U.S. and Gulf allies face tough task protecting oil shipping lanes

    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United States.

  • Migrants rush to enter Mexico ahead of security crackdown demanded by Trump

    CIUDAD HIDALGO, Mexico (Reuters) – Central.

  • French, Italian shipbuilders forge naval alliance

    PARIS (Reuters) – France and Italy.

  • Oman following Yemen escalation with ‘great concern’ – Omani media

    FILE PHOTO: Saudi security officers are.

  • U.S. blames Iran for tanker attacks in Gulf of Oman, Iran rejects assertion

    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States.

  • Democrats – Trump comments give green light to foreign election meddling

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic lawmakers accused.

  • White House spokeswoman Sanders leaving job at end of month

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House spokeswoman.

  • Two tankers struck in suspected attacks in Gulf of Oman – sources

    DUBAI (Reuters) – Two tankers were.

  • Hong Kong shuts government offices, security tight after violent protests

    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong.

  • Macri’s key rivals in Argentina presidential election strike alliance with centrist

    BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – The main.

  • Italy’s Salvini threatens to use strict new law on German NGO boat

    ROME (Reuters) – Italian Interior Minister.

  • Austria moves towards September 29 election as parliament draws towards close

    FILE PHOTO: Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian.

  • Missing British hiker found dead in New Zealand – police

    WELLINGTON (Reuters) – The body of.

  • Trump and Kim one year on: A ‘beautiful letter’, stalled diplomacy

    SEOUL (Reuters) – A year after.

  • Thousands of protesters paralyse Hong Kong’s financial hub over extradition bill

    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Chaotic scenes.

  • Protests abating, Macron sends PM to map out exit from reform ‘death valley’

    PARIS (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron.

  • Uganda confirms first Ebola case during current outbreak, a Congolese child – WHO

    GENEVA/KAMPALA (Reuters) – Uganda has confirmed.

  • Botswana’s High Court decriminalises homosexuality

    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Botswana decriminalised homosexuality.

  • Kazakh activists call for more protests over presidential vote

    ALMATY (Reuters) – Anti-government activists called.

  • Italy’s coalition to work to avert EU disciplinary action over budget – PM’s office

    ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s coalition leaders.

  • Japan PM Abe to meet Iran’s Khamenei, Rouhani this week

    TOKYO (Reuters) – Prime Minister Shinzo.

  • Turkish F-35 pilots no longer flying at U.S. base – Pentagon

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Training by Turkish.

  • U.S. House Democrats to get some Mueller evidence, Trump calls witness ‘sleazebag’

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congressional Democrats and.

  • Defying law, Indian farm group says it planted unapproved GM cotton seeds

    MUMBAI (Reuters) – An Indian farm.