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India’s massive election faces heatwave challenge in penultimate phase

The world’s largest election may become the hottest on Saturday, as Indians participate in the next-to-last phase of voting with temperatures forecast to surge to 47 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit) in the capital New Delhi.

More than 111 million people in 58 constituencies across eight states and federal territories are eligible to vote in the sixth of the seven-stage general election, including in the capital territory and the northern swing states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

Officials are concerned that the heatwave in parts of northern India, including Delhi and neighbouring Haryana state, could discourage voters from going to the polls and standing in lines, in an election earlier marked by low turnout.

“There is a concern, but we hope that people will overcome the fear of the heat wave and come and vote,” Delhi Chief Electoral Officer P. Krishnamurthy told Reuters.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is favoured to win a third consecutive term, a feat previously achieved only by independence hero Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister.

Voting began on April 19 and will conclude on June 1, with counting set for June 4.

Among those eligible to vote in Delhi are Rahul Gandhi, leader of the main opposition Congress party and Modi’s main rival, Gandhi’s Italian-born mother Sonia Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Vadra.

Rahul Gandhi is contesting elections in the southern state of Kerala and the family bastion of Raebareli in Uttar Pradesh, both of which have already voted. India allows people to contest more than one seat but they can retain only one if they win.

Also eligible to vote is opposition leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whose bail after pre-trial detention of nearly two months in a graft case has given fresh impetus to the opposition campaign.

Turnout was low in the initial phases of the election but it has improved as the Election Commission (EC), celebrities and politicians repeatedly urged people to vote.

Modi called on people, especially women and youth, to “vote in large numbers” in a message on social media platform X on Saturday morning. “Democracy thrives when its people are engaged and active in the electoral process.”

The EC has deployed thousands of paramedics with medicines and oral hydration salts at polling stations in Delhi. Voting centres have also been equipped with mist machines, shaded waiting areas and cold water dispensers for voters who may have to wait in lines for hours in the sweltering heat.

Among the areas voting on Saturday is the business hub of Gurugram in Haryana, which has offices of half the Fortune 500 companies and witnessed Hindu-Muslim clashes that killed seven people last year.

Religion has occupied centre stage in campaigning, with Modi accusing opposition leaders of being pro-Muslim – a move analysts say aims to fire up his Hindu nationalist base – and the opposition accusing the prime minister of targeting the minority community.

The EC on Wednesday directed the BJP and Congress to exercise restraint in their campaigns.


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Last Updated: 24th Jun 2024