News / Asia

Indians Vote in Key Election

Long lines at a polling station on the outskirts of New Delhi, April 10, 2014. (Anjana Pasricha/VOA)
Long lines at a polling station on the outskirts of New Delhi, April 10, 2014. (Anjana Pasricha/VOA)
Anjana Pasricha
India’s electoral battle has moved to the country's heartland, which will play a critical role in deciding the political fortunes of the ruling Congress Party, its main rival, the Bharatiya Janata Party as well as a political newcomer called the Aam Aadmi Party. 

Spread over 14 states and territories and covering some 110 million voters, Thursday’s vote was the first big round: it will decide the fate of 91 parliamentary seats.  
 
But nowhere was it as crucial as in the populous Uttar Pradesh (U.P.), where ballots were cast in the west. The north Indian state sends 80 lawmakers to the 543-member house and is famously known as the route to power in the Indian capital.
 
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The Bharatiya Janata Party, which is leading a blitz campaign to unseat the ruling Congress Party, is banking on a good performance in U.P.
 
“They [BJP] did not do too well in the last election, and they must improve their numbers here if they want to get a commanding position," noted  B.G. Verghese, a political commentator with New Delhi’s independent Center for Policy Research. " If they fail here for whatever reason, that will be a severe blow because there won’t be too many other places where they can make good these numbers.”
 
While development and jobs have emerged as key campaign issues, in some places, such as Muzaffarnagar, factors such as religion also play a critical role.    
 
Indian soldiers killed in Bihar

Voting has been largely peaceful.  But on Thursday, hours before polls opened in the eastern state of Bihar, suspected Maoist rebels blew up a jeep, killing at least two paramilitary soldiers and wounding at least three.

Authorities said a jeep carrying the soldiers to a polling station drove over a landmine in the Munger district.

Maoist insurgents have urged voters to stay away from the polls and threatened to disrupt the election.
 
  • Indians stand in lines to cast their votes outside a polling booth in New Delhi, April 10, 2014.
  • A woman holds a veil over her face and waits for her identity card to be checked before she is allowed to vote in Chandeni, in the northern Indian state of Haryana, April 10, 2014.
  • Residents of a low income settlement in Gurgaon, adjoining New Delhi, hold up their fingers after voting, April 10, 2014. (Anjana Pasricha/VOA)
  • Long lines at a polling station on the outskirts of New Delhi, April 10, 2014. (Anjana Pasricha/VOA)
  • A supporter of India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party wears a mask depicting the face of Prime Minister candidate Narendra Modi, during an election rally in Mumbai, April 9, 2014.
  • Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal drinks water as he sits at Rajghat, the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi after he was slapped by an attacker during his election campaign in New Delhi, April, 8, 2014.
  • An election official checks the identity of a voter during the first phase of elections in Agartala, in the northeastern state of Tripura, India, April 7, 2014.
  • An election official applies an indelible ink mark on the finger of a Mishing tribal woman voter in Misamora Sapori, an island in northeastern Assam state, India, April 7, 2014.
  • An elderly woman watches as she stands in a line to cast her vote during the first phase of elections in Dibrugarh, in the northeastern state of Assam, India, April 7, 2014.

 Sectarian tensions

The city of Muzaffarnagar and surrounding areas were the scene of Hindu-Muslim clashes last year that left more than 60 people dead and thousands homeless. Most of the victims were Muslims.
 
Political analysts say sectarian tensions here are being exploited by all political parties. The regional party which rules U.P. (Samajwadi Party) is wooing Muslims, many of whom worry about the Hindu nationalist leanings of the BJP. Meanwhile, BJP leaders have been appealing to Hindu voters in this area, triggering accusations from political opponents that the party is divisive.  
 
Ajay Sehgal, who owns farms in the region, says for many voters here religion is an issue.   
 
But Sehgal says for him religion is not the deciding factor. He says he cast his vote for the BJP to give a new party a chance.
 
New Delhi voting
Residents of a low income settlement in Gurgaon, adjoining Delhi, hold up their fingers after voting, April 10, 2014. (Anjana Pasricha/VOA)Residents of a low income settlement in Gurgaon, adjoining Delhi, hold up their fingers after voting, April 10, 2014. (Anjana Pasricha/VOA)
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Residents of a low income settlement in Gurgaon, adjoining Delhi, hold up their fingers after voting, April 10, 2014. (Anjana Pasricha/VOA)
Residents of a low income settlement in Gurgaon, adjoining Delhi, hold up their fingers after voting, April 10, 2014. (Anjana Pasricha/VOA)
Thursday’s vote also covered the capital New Delhi, where a new political party born on an anti-corruption plank, the Aam Aadmi Party, faces a key test. After making an impressive debut in Delhi’s local elections, the party is trying to emerge on the national political stage.
 
But political observers say many voters are disillusioned with the party following its brief, controversial 49-day rule in Delhi. They say a poor performance in New Delhi could dim the Aam Aadmi Party’s political future.

Just outside the Indian capital, in the city of Gurgaon, Sonia waits in a long line outside the poll to cast her ballot.  The 22-year old is among the country’s some 120 million first-time voters.
 
Sonia says she was excited about voting, and did it after some help. She opted for a party which will fulfill the needs of poor people like her - water, electricity, jobs.
 
Others like property agent Kuldeep Singh want a leader who can move India forward.

Singh says he is casting his vote for BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, because he feels all other leaders have run out of steam and are corrupt.  
     
 
A resident of a slum, Devraj Singh, wants a government that will lower prices and provide jobs, in New Delhi, India, April 4, 2014. (Anjana Pasricha for VOA)A resident of a slum, Devraj Singh, wants a government that will lower prices and provide jobs, in New Delhi, India, April 4, 2014. (Anjana Pasricha for VOA)
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A resident of a slum, Devraj Singh, wants a government that will lower prices and provide jobs, in New Delhi, India, April 4, 2014. (Anjana Pasricha for VOA)
A resident of a slum, Devraj Singh, wants a government that will lower prices and provide jobs, in New Delhi, India, April 4, 2014. (Anjana Pasricha for VOA)
There will be six more days of voting until May 12. Results will be tallied on May 16. Polls have forecast that the BJP will win the most seats, while the ruling Congress Party will suffer major losses.

Outgoing Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said it would be a disaster if the BJP's Narendra Modi becomes the new prime minister.

India's supreme court cleared Modi of charges of helping instigate ant-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2002, killing around 1,000.

The United States canceled his visa.

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Comments
     
by: Not Again from: Canada
April 13, 2014 1:27 AM
India, the largest democracy on the planet, is at a clear cross-road; people will have to chose between continuing with the current elite, which unfortunately has been involved with many negative situations, promisess never met, that have tainted the ruling party with massive alleged coruption scandals- like the VIP helo deal, like issues relating to the navy's expansion deals, like the many concession deals; and then they have had very little success with fighting terrorist, they are seen as soft on terrorism; the economy is in a downward spiral; the many major infrastructure projects have skyrocketed in end costs, with never ending delays; the negative sit relating to the safety of women; and so on.
I do not think that another Ghandi will be able to turn the negative sit, for the ruling party, around. India, as many other countries around the world having significant economic problems, like in Europe, are taking the nationalist option; nationalism is, unfortunately, on the rise to prominence and closing into the leadership positions.
BJP's N. Modi has gained significance to the Indian narrative- he has demonstrated good managerial skills; has not been associated with corruption; although cleared of involvement wrt the Mosque/ Hindu Temple incident, the fact that he was prosecuted over it, has given him great appeal amongst Hindu people, that for centuries were persecuted by the Mogul invaders and their descendants/supporters; the fact that the Hindu population was very much ethnically cleansed in Pakistan, with mass exodus under Islamist persecution, especially over the last 35 yrs, gives Modi a significant advantage amongst Hindu voters.
It is very likely, that at this crossroad, India will take the right turn; which if it occurs, will just result in further strained relations with the West, especially the US. A shift to the right, will mean India would once again fully restore its ties and military coperation/alignment with Russia; which would be a great loss to the West. Many significant Western errors, will potentially have caused/have a relation to a bad outcome in India/Western relations should Modi win the top position..

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