As Indian elections end, Modi awaits verdict on his 10 years in power

Voting in India’s general election, a six-week referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decade in power, came to an end on Saturday as much of the country’s populous north was hit by a deadly wave of heat.

The results will be tallied and announced on Tuesday.

Modi, with his deeply entrenched power, is considered to win a third consecutive term as prime minister, which would make him only the second leader in India’s nearly 75 years as a republic to achieve that feat.

But a newly united opposition has put up a fight, rallying against Modi’s divisive politics and his management of India’s deeply uneven economic growth. The country will now wait to see if the opposition was able to achieve its goal of significantly cutting into the sizeable majority in Parliament held by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The elections, held in phases over a month and a half, are the largest democratic exercise in the world, with more than 950 million eligible voters. The latest leg of the campaign drew large demonstrations even as northern India burned under an intense heat wave, with temperatures frequently exceeding 110 degrees Fahrenheit, or more than 43 degrees Celsius.

At least 19 election workers have died from heat stroke or other heat-related health complications in recent days.

Elections in a parliamentary system like India’s are typically contested on a seat-by-seat basis, with a candidate’s fate determined by local economic and social factors. But the BJP turned its campaign for the 543-seat Parliament into a presidential-style referendum, focusing almost entirely on Modi and his leadership. The party hoped Modi’s deep popularity would help it overcome growing anti-ruler sentiment after 10 years of BJP rule.

Modi held around 200 rallies across the country during more than two months of campaigning, hoping to boost struggling candidates in his party. He also carried out a media campaign, granting around 80 interviews to television stations and newspapers, almost all of them friendly to him.

When the campaign ended and a mandatory two-day electoral break was set to begin, Modi retreated south to the memorial of one of India’s most celebrated monks for two days of meditation. The country’s media followed him. The stream of videos and photographs released by his office, taken from multiple angles in a location where photography is generally not allowed, topped the nightly news and television debates.

Modi’s opponents protested, saying the exercise amounted to a banned campaign and exemplified the uneven playing field he had created.

“The weather is good. The prime minister is sitting there meditating and he has softened the sun goddess,” Ravi Kishan, an actor and BJP candidate, told local media. “This is historic: in the middle of a hot intense, the wind started blowing today.

The opposition, paralyzed by arrests and other punitive actions as part of a crackdown, still assembled its most united front in years. Opposition leaders described Modi as a friend of billionaires who has fought to create jobs for the country’s large youth population. They called the party elitist, accusing it of failing to help those at the middle and lower ends of India’s caste system.

The opposition has stoked fears that if the BJP remains in power, it could change the country’s Constitution to eliminate affirmative action for the middle and lower castes, a system implemented many decades ago to address centuries of oppression in the rigidly hierarchical society. of India.

Modi has vehemently rejected the charges as baseless; the party under him has increased its reach to the lower castes. To try to hold together his Hindu support base, he resorted to anti-Muslim rhetoric, leveling attacks that were unusually direct for him in recent years.

The opposition has also tried to win over voters by promising a long list of welfare offers, including loan forgiveness for farmers, cash transfers for women and paid apprenticeships for young people. Modi, on the other hand, has stuck to an image of fiscal prudence, highlighting only his existing offerings. That, members of his party say, was because he was confident of winning a third term and did not want to make excessive promises.

But while the opposition appeared to gain some strength, it faces an uphill task to topple Modi’s government. He has built a huge electoral advantage with a solid and well-funded political machine. In the last election, Modi’s party won 303 seats, almost six times more than its closest national competitor, the Indian National Congress party.

Pragati KB contributed reporting from Kanyakumari, India.

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