India announces poll dates as Modi fights to remain

Counting will take place on May 23 and results are likely to be announced that day


NEW DELHI • India will hold elections from April 11 to May 19 to decide whether Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi wins a second term as leader of the world’s largest democracy.

Around 900 million voters will elect 543 lawmakers to the lower house of Parliament, the chief election commissioner Sunil Arora said. Counting will take place on May 23 and results are likely to be announced that day.

Opinion polls show Modi, who secured biggest electoral victory in three decades in 2014, may win the most seats but fall short of majority.

The PM is battling a slide in popularity over rising concerns about lack of job creation and rural distress, but analysts said India’s decision to target terrorist camps in Pakistan could help the ruling party.

Meanwhi le, the main Opposition Congress party — led by Rahul Gandhi — is gaining lost ground and electoral momentum after snatching power from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in three key states in December.

“The current government and Modi has engaged in presidential and charismatic politics, with a weaker performance on policies,” said Neelanjan Sircar, assistant professor at the Ashoka University and visiting senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research.

“This election will tell us a lot about how Indians assess the trade off between Modi’s charisma and the economic performance of the government.”

Voting in India does not take place on a single day.

Because of the daunting logistics of overseeing the world’s largest electorate — stretching from the Himalayas in the north to tropical jungles — the voting is stretched out over several weeks.

Elections will take place in seven phases — April 11, 18, 23 and 29, and May 6, 12 and 19, Arora announced at a press conference in New Delhi yesterday.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP is counting on his welfare programmes to win votes, including the provision of toilets, electricity connections and cooking gas for the poor, as well as small business loans, annual income support for farmers and lower taxes for the middle-class.

BJP leaders are also focusing on religious nationalism, including protection of cows — considered sacred by India’s majority Hindu population.

Congress will pledge a onetime farm loan write-off, minimum income guarantee to the poor and blame Modi’s government for alleged corruption in a defence contract. — Bloomberg