Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 25 April 2019

India elections 2019 live: Modi and Gandhi vie for seats in Lok Sabha

The first stage of India's parliamentary elections begin, in world's largest democratic process

The first of seven stages in India's parliamentary elections began on Thursday with 91 constituencies across 20 states going to the polls to elect their MPs.

It is the largest democratic exercise in the world, requiring the vote to be split across seven days and two months.

Incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a second term in office but faces a grassroots challenge from Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Indian National Congress.

Here you will find the latest breaking news, analysis and reporting from The National.

(All times UTC+4)

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3:20pm Social media is political battlefield

The Bharatiya Janata Party stole a march on its rivals with the use of social media to influence voters in 2014. Five years later, most Indian parties are active on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, raising the problem of how to stop the spread of false information for political gain.

Read Samanth Subramanian's report on the issue here

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3:10pm Indications of strong turnout

Voter turnout was near or higher than 50 per cent in north-eastern states, the northern state of Uttarakhand and in the southern state of Telengana, updated figures released at 3pm show.

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2:00pm At least one killed in electoral violence

A local leader of the ruling Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh state was killed in a confrontation with supporters of another regional party, YSR Congress, police said. Clashes were also reported elsewhere in the state, where voters are electing 25 members of parliament and the state legislative assembly. In Uttar Pradesh, security forces guarding a polling booth in Kairana constituency fired in the air after a group of about two dozen people demanded to vote despite not having voter IDs, local officials said. No injuries were reported.

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1:00pm 12 hours is a long time on the campaign trail

The National's Suhail Rather is on the ground in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, where the campaign rallies are just heating up. Yesterday Congress was in town. Today, it's the turn of the BJP as its candidate Smriti Irani holds a campaign rally in her bid to unseat the Congress leader, Rahul Gandhi.

The Amethi constituency will be voting on May 6.

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11:49am Voter turnouts at 11am

Nearly half of the voters in Nagaland have cast their vote within four hours of polls opening for the north-eastern state's single parliamentary seat, according to latest figures released by the Press Information Bureau. Polling is also proceeding rapidly in West Bengal and in Manipur.

In Uttar Pradesh, where polling is being held for eight of the northern state's 80 seats, overall turnout was 24 per cent, according to election officials. Voters were much slower off the mark in Maharashtra, with turnout in the seven of the western state's 48 constituencies for which voting is being held at just 13.7 per cent by 11am.

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11:10 Congress condemns alleged caste discrimination

The opposition Indian National Congress party has condemned reports of caste prejudice in voting in Uttar Pradesh. In a Tweet carry a firstpost.com report of an Dalit man being turned away from the voting booth in Kairana, Congress said:

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11:00 Google Doodle marks start of India's election

Election time. The Google Doodle for India on April 11, 2019.
Election time. The Google Doodle for India on April 11, 2019.

Google has marked the start of India's election with a doodle with an ink-marked finger that denotes someone has cast their ballot.

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09:25 Voter turnouts at 9am

Voter turnout in the north-eastern province of Nagaland is the highest in India at 9am local time according to the Indian government's press information bureau.

Some 20 per cent of eligible voters in Nagaland have cast their ballot, while only 5.83 per cent had voted at Andaman and Nicobar Islands had voted.

The parliamentary elections in 2014 had the country's highest ever turnout, which topped 66 per cent.

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07:55 #GotInked: voters share selfies of democratic vote

Indians are sharing selfies with their inked fingers after voting in the elections.

When you cast your ballot in India your finger is marked with a spot of blue ink, to prevent you from voting again, but some are showing off their fingers as a point of pride.

"I voted for change, I voted for development", one Modi supporter said on Twitter.

"What a wonderful feeling and proud moment to fulfill my fundamental duty as a Citizen of India," another said.

The hashtag is an initiative by the Electoral Commission of India's voter turnout project.

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07:10 Heightened security after Kashmir attacks

Security personnel stand guard as people line up to vote at a polling station during India's general election in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. AFP
Security personnel stand guard as people line up to vote at a polling station during India's general election in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh. AFP

Security for the polls was increased after seven people were killed in militant attacks in Jammu and Kashmir, the country's only Muslim majority state, and in eastern India, where Maoist insurgents were blamed for a bomb that killed a state legislator from Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Reuters reports.

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06:37 A picture perfect poll: child-control, plastic-free and orderly queuing

What is the perfect polling station, if there is one? Well, the Electoral Commission of India's spokesperson says it might be in Zunheboto in Nagaland.

An orderly polling station to say the least! A free creche allows mothers with young children to leave their kids to vote, while free drinking water, not using plastic cups, keeps exercising citizens hydrated.

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06:10 Dozens of voters queue to be first

India's Electoral Commission awarded five medals to the first five voters in a rural village in the Khasi Hills in the northwest of the country.

Dozens of people can be seen waiting outside polling stations across the country.

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05:45 Narendra Modi urges young people to vote

India's Prime Minister urged young and first-time voters to turn out in the first stage of India's elections.

Mr Modi has created a cult of personality around him and his brand, but the Indian National Congress has had greater popularity with young people.

Meanwhile, BJP president Amit Shah said, "the power of democracy lies in your single vote, your one vote will decide the future of this great nation."

But the BJP's main opposition, the Indian National Congress was silent on Twitter as voting began. The BJP has run a social-media-savvy campaign, but have also been accused of hashtag influencing (using bots to make favourable hashtags trend) and a large pro-BJP Facebook page was taken down for what the company called "co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour".

Read how Facebook removed pages advocating for the BJP and INC here

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05:30 Voting begins in first stage of India's election

Indian election officials and paramilitary soldiers with election materials board on a country boat to cross the river Brahmaputra on the eve of first phase of general election in Majuli, Assam, India. AP
Indian election officials and paramilitary soldiers with election materials board on a country boat to cross the river Brahmaputra on the eve of first phase of general election in Majuli, Assam, India. AP

At 7am local time, voting began in India's parliamentary election, the world's largest democratic exercise and an opportunity for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to seek a second term.

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

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On Wednesday: Main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi files nomination

Main opposition leader Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination for India’s election on Tuesday, using the platform to repeat allegations of corruption against current prime minister, Narendra Modi.

Mr Gandhi was in Amethi, a town in northern India, to sign the necessary papers to represent the constituency for the fourth time.

Speaking to reporters, who are predicting a close contest in a region traditionally loyal to the Congress Party, Mr Gandhi accused Mr Modi of theft and invited him to discuss the matter publicly with him.

“I’m challenging Mr Modi to a debate,” said Mr Gandhi.

“Come debate with me anywhere on corruption, on demonetisation. I am ready for a debate anywhere,” he said.

Read Ramola Talwar Badam's report from Amethi here

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First-time voters say they feel let down by Modi

India’s first-time voters say they feel let down by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the rise of Hindu nationalism as the country heads to the polls on Thursday.

Yamaan Husain, from the state capital Lucknow, applied for his voter card the day after his 18th birthday last week. His enthusiasm to vote has been dulled, however, by his concern that religion has dominated the national discourse.

“You are born into your religion, but you are a human being – no one should be judged as different because they follow a particular religion,” said the teenager, who plans to go to university later this year to study aeronautical engineering.

“This is a secular country and it’s not right to hurt people who follow Islam as their religion.”

Read Ramola Talwar Badam's full report from Uttar Pradesh here

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Modi biopic banned from Indian cinemas until after voting ends

India's electoral commission has banned a biopic of its Prime Minister Narendra Modi until after the country's parliamentary elections, officials said on Wednesday.

The film, titled PM Narendra Modi, has been criticised for grossly extolling the virtues of the Bharatiya Janata Party leader.

The film was scheduled for release on Thursday to coincide with the first day of voting in the seven-stage process.

Read more about the Modi biopic

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Opinion: Is Modi's cult of personality strong enough to see him through?

A man walks in front of posters of the upcoming Bollywood film "PM Narendra Modi". AFP
A man walks in front of posters of the upcoming Bollywood film "PM Narendra Modi". AFP

Over the BJP and India looms one man, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose biggest task this election is to convince Indians he is indispensable to the nation's security and economic prospects.

It is not yet clear if Mr Modi can pull it off. There have been mutterings of dissent within his party. On April 6, the day the BJP was co-founded by him back in 1980, the party’s elder statesman L K Advani publicly delivered what seemed to be a rebuke of Mr Modi’s stewardship of his political project.

Read Rashmee Roshan Lall's full opinion piece here

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Key points from the BJP Manifesto

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday sought to woo Hindu voters and farmers with an election manifesto he hopes will help him seal a second term in office.

Mr Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) outlined its key policies in the document released with fanfare in New Delhi, balancing nationalist policies with development promises, three days before elections begin.

  • Building a grand temple for the Hindu god Ram "as soon as possible in a harmonious way"
  • Pass a citizenship bill that would grant Indian nationality to Hindus from neighbouring countries
  • Spend more than $300 billion (Dh1.1 trillion) on rural development
  • Extend an annual handout of 6,000 rupees (Dh320)
  • Introduce a pension scheme for small and marginal farmers
  • Promised to reserve 33 per cent of seats in parliament and state assemblies for women

Read our analysis here

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Who are the main parties in India's election?

The Bharatiya Janata Party

The BJP’s star campaigner has been Mr Modi himself. He has decided to seek re-election from Varanasi, the ancient seat of Hindu spirituality in Uttar Pradesh.

The prime minister’s real challenge lies in addressing other parts of the country, and in “getting voters to overlook the state of the economy and give it another five years to tackle bread-and-butter issues that Indians care about like jobs, agricultural prices, and livelihoods,” said Milan Vaishnav, the director of the South Asia programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC.

India’s unemployment rate, according to leaked government data, is around 6 per cent, the highest in four decades.

The Indian National Congress

In 2014, after running the government for two successive terms, the Congress won a mere 44 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament. It was the lowest-ever tally for India’s grand old party, hit as it was by numerous corruption scandals.

Its best bet to oust the BJP is to play kingmaker, gathering together parties in a post-election coalition to form the government.

A man folds a stole with the logo of India's main opposition Congress party inside a shop selling various political parties' merchandise. Reuters
A man folds a stole with the logo of India's main opposition Congress party inside a shop selling various political parties' merchandise. Reuters

Rahul Gandhi has been vocal in his criticisms of Mr Modi but has had to build his image painstakingly.

“He has become more consistent, diligent and effective, [but] he is still no match for Modi as far as his popularity or charisma are concerned,” Mr Vaishnav said. “When it comes to ideas, the Congress has relied far too heavily on articulating what the BJP has done wrong, as opposed to what it would do if it were given a shot at power.”

The Federal Front

In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the two strongest regional parties, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), have put past tensions behind them and partnered in an explicit bid to defeat the BJP.

The SP and BSP are part of a larger nationwide coalition of 15 parties, called the Federal Front. They differ on ideologies, being united purely in their desire to unseat Mr Modi and the BJP.

The lack of a coherent shared agenda and the inevitable struggles for power and influence in the event of they come out top might doom the Federal Front altogether.

The Aam Aadmi Party

In 2014, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was an upstart band of activists and outsiders who had formed less than two years earlier and ran on a platform of honest governance, but to little success.

The AAP has allied with the Congress in an attempt to defeat the BJP – yet another marriage driven by the arithmetic of voter bases.

The alliance is, in itself, a sign of how the AAP has scaled back its ambitions. In 2014, Mr Kejriwal loudly portrayed his party as a national-level alternative to the BJP and the Congress.

This time around the AAP has more manageable goals: to elect its candidates running in its home base of Delhi; to maintain its presence in Punjab, where it won four Lok Sabha seats in 2014; and to expand its reach in the state of Haryana, adjoining Delhi.

Read the full story, with additional analysis here

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Who are Indians electing?

The main vote is for the Lok Sabha, which has 545 seats, but two of these are reserved for the Anglo-Indian community – people of Indian-European ancestry – and filled by presidential nomination.

Voters in Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim will also be electing their state legislatures.

The upper house of parliament, or Rajya Sabha, is elected separately by members of state legislatures.

Who will challenge Narendra Modi and the BJP?

The Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its partners in the National Democratic Alliance are widely expected to win the election again, but not by the landslide they achieved in 2014 when the BJP even secured a majority in its own right.

The Congress party, headed by Rahul Gandhi, which has won 10 of India's past 15 elections either outright or in an alliance, is seeking a return to power after being humiliated in 2014. However, there is third force challenging to form the next government in the form of a "mega-coalition" of smaller parties, including former rivals, that have come together with the goal of unseating Mr Modi.

What are the polling dates?

The election has been broken up as follows:

April 11: 91 constituencies in 20 states

April 18: 97 constituencies in 13 states

April 23: 115 constituencies in 14 states

April 29: 71 constituencies in 9 states

May 6: 51 constituencies in 7 states

May 12: 59 constituencies in 7 states

May 19: 59 constituencies in 8 states

When will the results be known?

The counting of votes will begin on May 23, four days after the last round of voting, and is expected to be completed on the same day.

Updated: April 11, 2019 08:03 PM

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