India to Hold Vote Starting in April as Modi Seeks to Stay

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India will hold general elections over six weeks from April 19, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi bidding for a third term in office buoyed by a strong economy and his party’s Hindu nationalist policies.

The national polls will be carried out over seven phases until June 1, Rajiv Kumar, India’s chief election commissioner, told reporters in New Delhi on Saturday. The votes will be counted on June 4, he said. Preliminary results are usually known the same day.

Modi has said his Bharatiya Janata Party and allies will sweep the elections with more than 400 of the 543 parliamentary seats up for grabs in the polls. He faces a weakened opposition alliance, which has been struggling to put across a cohesive message that resonates with voters.

About 970 million Indians are registered to vote and over 1 million polling stations will be set up, the commission said.

The elections will be carried out over several weeks to ensure citizens get access to electronic voting machines. India will also hold state assembly polls in the northeastern states of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, Odisha in the east and Andhra Pradesh in the south.

The BJP’s seat target is an ambitious goal when compared with the 303 seats won in the 2019 elections. Modi’s support among the majority Hindu population is high, and his party has taken several steps to promote a Hindu-first policy. Modi earlier this year opened a temple on a site where a 16th-century mosque once stood, and the government this week enacted a law that fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim immigrants.

Another five-year term would give the BJP room to push through other controversial policies. The party has proposed a population register that critics say would discriminate against minorities and also wants to implement a legal code that may replace all religion-based laws.

A third term also gives Modi the chance to continue an economic program that investors have broadly embraced. India is posting growth rates of more than 7%, making it one of the fastest expanding economies in the world. The stock market has more than doubled since Modi took power in 2014, exceeding the 176% increase in the S&P 500 in the past decade.

India has also become an important security partner to Washington and a manufacturing alternative to a slowing China economy.

One of Modi’s main economic challenges is finding jobs for the tens of millions of young people who join the workforce every year — a major concern for new voters in the country, some 18 million who are eligible to cast their ballots for the first time. The government is also struggling to quell farmers protests over food crop prices.

Modi will face an alliance of more than 20 opposition groups in the polls, the biggest of which is the Indian National Congress. The alliance has struggled to capitalize on voters’ discontent about bread-and-butter issues as they work out seat-sharing deals. Several high-profile alliance members defected to the BJP in the past several months and numerous opposition leaders are under investigation by federal agencies or have been arrested.

Some opposition parties are focusing on the regions they dominate. Those who remain in the alliance are looking to circumvent Modi’s star power with a state-by-state campaign aimed at celebrating India’s religious diversity.

They are also offering support to low-income households, although they face a well-funded campaign by the BJP-led government, which is giving cheaper loans, affordable cooking gas and cash handouts to citizens.

The Election Commission also gave its first clear statement on polls in the contentious region of Jammu and Kashmir, saying voting for the state assembly will take place soon after the federal elections. India’s only majority Muslim state, Jammu and Kashmir was stripped of its autonomy in 2019.

Elections in the state couldn’t be held simultaneously with the federal polls because of security concerns, Kumar said. Each state candidate for the assembly polls would require individual security cover, he said.

--With assistance from Ronojoy Mazumdar and Dan Strumpf.

(Updates with additional details.)

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