Millions vote amid heatwave warning in the sixth phase of India’s sporadic elections Indian elections 2024 news

Many people lined up at polling stations before voting began at 7 a.m. to avoid the blazing sun at the height of summer.

Millions of Indians have cast their votes in the penultimate round of grueling national elections, as the opposition collectively tries to prevent Prime Minister Narendra Modi from winning a rare third consecutive term.

Many people lined up at polling stations before voting began at 7 a.m. (01:30 GMT) on Saturday to avoid the blazing sun later in the day at the height of summer.

The temperature rose to 43 degrees Celsius (109.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in the afternoon in the capital, New Delhi. The India Meteorological Office this week issued a heatwave “red warning” for the city and surrounding states as tens of millions of people cast their votes.

BJP supporters distribute drinks outside a polling station in Karnal, Haryana [Bhawika Chhabra/Reuters]

Lakshmi Bansal, a housewife, said that while the weather is hot, people usually go out for shopping and even attend festivals in such heat.

“this [election] “It is also a festival, so I have no problem voting in the heat,” Bansal said.

Nearly 970 million voters – more than 10% of the world’s population – were eligible to elect 543 members of the lower house of parliament for a five-year term.

India Phase 6

The voting, which took place on Saturday in 58 constituencies, including seven in New Delhi, completed balloting for 89.5 percent of the 543 seats in the lower house of parliament.

Voting on the remaining 57 seats will conclude on June 1, the six-week election. The votes will be counted on June 4.

President Draupadi Murmu and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar were among the early voters. Opposition Congress Party leaders Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi also voted in New Delhi.

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Rahul Sonia Gandhi Indian elections
Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi take a selfie at a polling station in New Delhi [Sahiba Chawdhary/Reuters]

Mehbooba Mufti, the former chief minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, staged a protest with her supporters on Saturday, alleging that police arrested dozens of her party workers to prevent them from voting. Mufti, president of the People’s Democratic Party, which is contesting the parliamentary elections in Anantnag-Rajouri district, said she had complained to election officials.

In the state of West Bengal, workers belonging to the All India Trinamool Congress party intercepted the car of Agnimitra Paul, one of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party candidates, while she was voting in the Medinipur constituency. The two parties are rivals in the country and their workers often clash in the streets.

“The opposition is better than expected”

This election is considered one of the most important in India’s history, and will serve as a test of Modi’s political dominance. If Modi wins, he will be the second Indian leader to retain power for a third term, after Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister.

Modi ran his election campaign as if it were a presidential race, or a referendum on his ten years of rule. He claimed to help the poor through charity, free healthcare, providing toilets in their homes and helping women obtain free or cheap cooking gas cylinders.

But Modi changed his position after low voter turnout in the first round of elections and began inciting Hindu nationalism by accusing the Congress Party of appeasing the Muslim minority to get votes.

Hindus represent 80 percent and Muslims about 14 percent of India’s population of more than 1.4 billion people.

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“When the polls started, it seemed like a one-horse race, with Modi coming from the front. But now we are witnessing a bit of a shift,” said political analyst Rashid Kidwai.

“The opposition is doing better than expected, and Modi’s party seems to be in turmoil. That’s why you see Modi ramping up his anti-Muslim rhetoric to polarize voters.

“Vote against dictatorship”

Analyst Kidwai said the opposition challenged Modi by focusing its election campaign on social justice and high unemployment, making the contest closer than expected.

Prominent opponents include Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, 55, leader of the opposition Aam Aadmi Party.

“Please vote, use your right to vote, and vote against dictatorship,” Kejriwal said after casting his vote.

Kejriwal was arrested in March in a long-running corruption case and jailed for several weeks before the Supreme Court granted him bail earlier this month and he returned to the election campaign.

Opposition voter Yogesh Kumar (42 years old) told AFP that investigators “did not have any evidence and yet they imprisoned him.” “This is a clear show of force.”

Nilanjan Sircar of the Center for Policy Research told Al Jazeera that Kejriwal’s imprisonment had actually benefited AAP.

“When people saw Arvind Kejriwal arrested, they thought that the BJP was actually imprisoning a legitimate opposition person,” Sircar said. “This imprisonment of Kejriwal has convinced the BJP how popular he actually is.”

Modi’s political opponents and international human rights activists have long raised the alarm about India’s shrinking democratic space.

US think tank Freedom House said this year that the BJP “has increasingly used government institutions to target political opponents.”

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