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Indians cast vote in marathon election

By APARAJIT CHAKRABORTY in New Delhi | CHINA DAILY/XINHUA | Updated: 2024-04-22 07:21

People wait to cast their votes at a polling station during the first phase of the general election in Imphal, Manipur, India, on Friday. REUTERS

Almost a billion Indians began parliament voting on Friday and will end on June 1, a multiphase election spreading over 44 days.

Nearly 970 million voters will elect 543 members to the lower house of parliament for five years in a seven-phase election. The final votes will be counted and announced on June 4.

"A billion people will come out to vote … It's going to be very challenging for us," Kiren Rijiju, federal minister for earth sciences, told the media earlier.

"I urge all those voting … to exercise their franchise in record numbers," Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking an unprecedented third term, posted on the social media platform X before the first phase of voting on Friday.

The size of the electorate makes elections a tough management task, said Balveer Arora, chairman of the Centre for Multilevel Federalism, New Delhi, and a former professor of political science at the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party on Sunday issued its election manifesto,"Modi's Guarantee". The manifesto promises to create jobs, boost infrastructure and expand welfare programs. It also proposes an ambitious vision for the country to become a "developed nation" by 2047.

The only other party with a nationwide influence is the Congress, which is the primary contender against the BJP. Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi of the Congress party are the primary challengers to Modi.

Conducting elections during the hottest months of the year has made it more difficult. A searing heat wave engulfed several parts of India on Saturday, with maximum temperatures ranging from 40 to 46 C in some areas.

Unemployment rate

Intermittent violence and clashes were reported in some parts of the country. Social tensions come to the surface during elections and security forces are required to maintain peace and public order, Arora said.

Despite strong economic growth, India's unemployment rate is alarmingly high. Youth unemployment, particularly among those aged 20 to 24, remained high at 44.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2023.

The agricultural sector, upon which over 40 percent of India's population depends for livelihood, presents another formidable challenge.

Farmers grapple with mounting debt and stagnant incomes, which has led to widespread protests against the government and demands for minimum income guarantees and agricultural reforms.

"They are not new issues. None of the parties, neither the Congress party nor the BJP, or other parties, have been able to deliver on these issues effectively," said Mujibur Rehman, a professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy of the Jamia Millia Islamia, a university in New Delhi.

Attracting foreign investment remains another big issue for a new government despite reforms during Modi's 10-year tenure.

"As a rapidly growing market, India is attractive to multinational corporations. However, the Indian market is also fraught with numerous uncertainties, posing various risks and challenges to foreign investment," said Lin Minwang, deputy director of the Center for South Asian Studies at Fudan University.

Xinhua contributed to this story.

The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

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