India’s national election to start April 19, with Narendra Modi favoured to win

India on Saturday announced its six-week-long general election will start on April 19, with most surveys predicting a victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in the country of 1.4 billion people.

Voting in the world’s largest democracy will stretch over seven phases, with different states voting at different times, and results will be announced on June 4. More than 970 million voters — more than 10 per cent of the world’s population — will elect 543 members for the lower house of Parliament for a term of five years.

“We will take democracy to every corner of the country,” Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar told reporters in New Delhi as he announced voting. “It is our promise to deliver a national election in a manner that we … remain a beacon for democracy around the world.”

Modi, who is seeking a third consecutive term, faces little challenge as the main opposition alliance of more than two dozen regional parties led by the Indian National Congress party appears to be cracking, riven by rivalries, political defections and ideological clashes.

Members of India's election commission sit in a row in front of a sign announcing the country's national election.
Kumar, centre, speaks during a news conference in New Delhi to announce that six weeks of voting in a national election will begin next month. (Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images)

Analysts say the election is likely to cement Modi as one of India’s most enduring and consequential leaders who has sought to transform the country from a secular democracy into an avowedly Hindu nation.

Each election phase will last one day, and several constituencies — spread across multiple states, densely populated cities and far-flung villages — will vote that day. The staggered polling allows the government to deploy tens of thousands of troops to prevent violence and transport electoral officials and voting machines.

India has a first-past-the-post multiparty electoral system in which the candidate who receives the most votes wins.

Ahead of the polls, Modi has been travelling across the country inaugurating new projects, making speeches and engaging with voters. Support for the leader surged after he opened a Hindu temple in northern Ayodhya city in January, which many saw as the unofficial start of his election campaign because it fulfilled his party’s long-held Hindu nationalist pledge.

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The 73-year-old Modi first swept to power in 2014 on promises of economic development, presenting himself as an outsider cracking down on the political elite. Since then, he has grown increasingly popular and mixed religion with politics in a formula that has resonated deeply with the country’s majority Hindu population, even if it undermines India’s secular roots.

The election comes as India’s clout on the global stage has risen under Modi, thanks to its large economy and partly because it is seen as a counterweight to a rising China.

LISTEN | India’s new citizenship law for religious minorities leaves out Muslims:

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This week marked India’s 77th Independence anniversary. And despite the passage of time, there’s still no figure more singularly associated with India’s fight against British rule, as is Mahatma Gandhi. But — after ten years of rule by prime minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist BJP — Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy is now being openly attacked and even vilified in India. In fact, according to Gandhi’s great grandson, Tushar Gandhi — an ideology of hate is consuming his country. He says the result could be worse than anyone dares to imagine. Tushar Gandhi is a writer, an activist, and the director of the Gandhi Research Foundation.

Critics say that nearly a decade of Modi’s rule has been marked by rising unemployment even as its economy swells; attacks by Hindu nationalists against the country’s minorities, particularly Muslims; and a shrinking space for dissent and free media. The opposition says a win by Modi’s party could threaten India’s status as a secular, democratic nation.

A victory for Modi’s BJP would follow a 2019 electoral triumph, when it secured an absolute majority with 303 parliamentary seats against 52 held by the Congress party.

WATCH | On the scene at a farmers’ protest in India last month:

On the scene at the farmers’ protest in India

Tens of thousands of farmers in India are attempting to march to the country’s capital, New Delhi, to demand guaranteed crop prices. They’ve been stopped at the border between the Punjab and Haryana provinces by police, who have used tear gas and detained some protesters who tried to break barricades. CBC’s Salimah Shivji reports from the protest. 

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