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India: General elections begin, Prime Minister Narendra Modi enjoys widespread support

The opposition is fighting, and India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi is almost guaranteed to win. India began voting for its general elections this Friday. A long line formed outside the polling station when it opened in Haridwar, an important Hindu pilgrimage site on the banks of the Ganges and one of the first cities to vote in this election.

“I am happy with the direction the country is moving,” says Ganga Singh, 27, a rickshaw driver from Haridwar. “I will vote, thinking not about my personal well-being, but about the prosperity of the country. ” On the other hand, Gabbar Thakur, 50, a tourist photographer who came to vote early, says he is “angry at the government,” regretting that “so-called development has not reached where (he lives).”

“Every voice matters”

Since polling began, Narendra Modi has urged voters in the first phase of voting, of which there are seven, to “exercise their right to vote in record numbers,” especially young people and first-time voters. “Every voice matters and every voice matters,” he added on social network X (formerly Twitter).

The Congress, India’s main opposition party, on the same platform reminded voters that their “vote can end inflation, unemployment, hatred and injustice” and emphasized: “Be sure to vote”, “Don’t forget to vote”. A total of 968 million Indians will elect 543 members of the lower house, more than the total population of the United States, the European Union and Russia combined.

The elections will last until June 1, at more than a million polling stations across the country. Ballots across the country will be counted on June 4. Results are usually announced on the same day.

Still a popular prime minister

Narendra Modi, 73, remains very popular after two terms during which India increased its diplomatic influence and economic clout. A 2023 Pew poll found that nearly 80% of Indians have a favorable view of Narendra Modi. He has already given the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) two landslide victories in 2014 and 2019 by playing to the religious component of the Hindu electorate.

This year he opened a large temple in the city of Ayodhya dedicated to the Hindu deity Ram, built on the site of a centuries-old mosque destroyed by Hindu fanatics. The event, eagerly awaited by its activists, received widespread media coverage and public celebrations throughout India. Political scientists have already given him victory over the coalition of opposition parties, which has not yet named its candidate for the post of prime minister.

His prospects have been boosted by several criminal investigations against his opponents. Congress’ bank accounts have been frozen by India’s tax authorities since February following a five-year dispute over tax returns. “We have no money for the election campaign, we cannot support our candidates,” its leader Rahul Gandhi warned in March. “Our ability to conduct the electoral battle has been undermined. »

Rahul Gandhi, 53, whose father, grandparents and great-grandfather served as prime minister, was briefly suspended from Parliament last year after being found guilty of libel. Portrayed by Narendra Modi as out of touch with Indian reality, Rahul Gandhi sought to get closer to the people by organizing two marches across the country. But after two consecutive defeats by Narendra Modi, there is no sign that his efforts to undermine the prime minister’s popularity have succeeded.

He accuses the government of some degree of democratic backsliding and criticizes its appeal to India’s religious majority at the expense of significant minorities, including the 210 million Muslim Indians worried about their future. Narendra Modi’s mandate has been marked by “repression aimed at undermining democracy and civic space,” human rights association CIVICUS condemned in a report on Wednesday.

Opposition bloc facing the BJP

The Congress, which ruled the country almost continuously for decades after India’s independence, is a shadow of its former self, ruling only three of the country’s 28 states. Its leaders have formed a coalition with more than twenty regional parties to oppose the BJP and its well-oiled and lavishly funded electoral machinery. But the bloc has been plagued by disputes over seat-sharing agreements and suffered from the defection of one of its leaders to the government.

The coalition accuses Narendra Modi’s government of using justice to neutralize some opposition leaders such as Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who is currently in custody. Under Narendra Modi’s leadership, India has become the world’s fifth largest economy, surpassing the United Kingdom, a former colonial power.

And Western countries are rushing to court this potential ally to combat the growing assertiveness of China, the region’s main rival, despite warnings from human rights activists of a decline in press freedom. Since Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, India has dropped 21st place in Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s world press freedom rankings, ranking 161st out of 180 countries.

Source: Le Parisien

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