Indian polls kick off amid high alert | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 11, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:08 AM, April 11, 2019

Indian polls kick off amid high alert

Voters in 91 constituencies will exercise their rights in first of seven phases of voting today

India went on high security alert yesterday ahead of the start of its marathon election today, after a campaign dominated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's leadership that has focused on keeping the country safe from attack.

Polls predict Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) alliance will just win a parliamentary majority, a sharp drop from his commanding mandate five years ago, when he vowed to turn India into an economic and military power.

A bomb blast Tuesday blamed on Maoist rebels killed five people, including a lawmaker campaigning for Modi, heightened fears of election bloodshed.

Some 80,000 troops, police and paramilitaries will be deployed in troubled Chhattisgarh state -- where the attack was carried out -- when voting starts today, state police chief D M Awasthi said.

Maoist rebels are behind many of the long-simmering insurgencies in at least nine Indian states.

But the Election Commission, which organises the world's biggest democratic election with 900 million eligible voters choosing 543 MPs, insisted the attack would not change its schedule.

Polling will take place in 91 out of 543 constituencies spread across 20 states and Union Territories (UTs) in the first phase today.

BJP is seeking a second term, defending a landslide win over the opposition Congress party in 2014. The result is predicted to be close however.

Various opinion polls have indicated National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by BJP will win up to 273 of the 543 parliament seats at stake, just one more than the required majority.

In the last election, BJP-led alliance won more than 330 seats - the biggest mandate in three decades-- defeating Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) .

Most of the polling agencies that released surveys in the last four days said Modi got a boost from recent tension with arch enemy Pakistan after a militant group based there killed 40 Indian policemen in the disputed region of Kashmir in February.

India blamed the attack on a Pakistan-based group and launched a cross-border air raid, which sparked a retaliatory strike by Pakistan that briefly brought the rivals close to a new war.

Modi has used India's action against Pakistan to bolster his strongman image and divert attention from criticism over a lack of jobs across the country and a farmers' debt crisis.

At a rally on Tuesday, Modi urged first-time voters to dedicate their ballot to the military who staged the air strike inside Pakistan.

Congress said the speech breached an Election Commission order that political parties should not use the armed forces for propaganda.

A biopic of the prime minister has also caused controversy, with the opposition Congress party waging a legal battle to prevent the showing of what it has called unfair propaganda.

The film however was given a censors' certificate earlier in the week after the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal, and will be released today.

"We are very happy that we got the 'U' (universal) certificate from the Censor Board," producer Sandeep Ssingh said in a statement.

Congress, led by Rahul Gandhi, said the flattering portrayal of Modi would give an unfair advantage to his Hindu nationalist BJP.

The producers of two TV series were given warning notices by the Election Commission for promoting Modi's pet schemes through their shows, PTI reported.

Under Indian election law, during the 48 hours before a state votes, the publication of any content deemed as campaigning -- including adverts, films and even social media -- requires Election Commission approval.

Gandhi, scion of India's Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, filed his nomination papers yesterday following a roadshow in his home constituency of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.

Amethi goes to the polls on May 6. The last vote is on May 19 and the results will be announced on May 23.

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