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NEW DELHI: The Election Commission of India announced the dates of this year’s general election on Saturday. Votes will be cast over seven phases beginning April 19, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking a third straight term in office.
More than 968.7 million people are registered to vote in the upcoming polls, which will run through June 1, and the results will be announced on June 4, Rajiv Kumar, India’s chief election commissioner, announced at a press conference in Delhi.
After April 19, the other voting dates are April 26, May 7, May 13, May 20, May 25 and June 1, with some states completing the process in a single day, and others spreading it out over several days.
“We, as a nation, are set to retrieve our pledge to electoral democracy,” Kumar said. “All attention is focused on India as the world’s largest and (most) vibrant democracy, where election is a festival in which the color of democracy brightens, and all parts of the country participate.”
The election will decide who will rule the world’s most populous nation for the next five years.
If Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party win, then Modi will become only the second prime minister, after Jawaharlal Nehru, to succeed in three consecutive polls.
Modi is targeting 400 seats for the National Democratic Alliance (which the BJP leads) in the 543-member lower house of parliament.
He will be challenged by an alliance of two dozen opposition parties — the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, or INDIA, led by the Congress Party, which ruled the country for almost 45 years following its independence in 1947.
In 2019, the BJP secured a landslide victory with 303 seats, (353 counting its coalition). The Congress Party won 52 seats (91 counting its partners).
While the opposition is trying to appeal to India’s youth with promises to tackle unemployment and provide free education and medical care, the BJP has deployed the same tactics as in previous polls — mobilizing voters through majoritarian Hindu sentiment in a country where constitutional provisions make it a secular state.
In March, Modi’s government announced a plan to enact a controversial citizenship law that allows religious minorities from neighboring countries to seek Indian citizenship — provided they are not Muslim.
In January, the prime minister inaugurated a controversial Hindu temple built on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque demolished by a right-wing mob in 1992.
And in one of its most controversial moves, his government stripped Muslim-majority Kashmir of its statehood and special autonomous status, which was granted by the Indian Constitution, on Aug. 5, 2019 — unilaterally revoking the relevant provisions and scrapping Kashmir’s flag, legislature, protections on land ownership, and fundamental rights, sparking fears of demographic engineering in the region.
“The quality of democracy is at stake, the participative nature of the republic is at stake, the principles which form the core ideas of our constitution are at stake,” Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, political analyst and the author of Modi’s biography “Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times,” told Arab News.

“Since 2019, we have seen a lot of erosion of all this; we have seen the quality of democracy taking a beating, we have seen the autonomy of Indian institutions slide down in a massive way, and we have seen people becoming more and more prejudiced toward the religious minorities in this country.”
Apoorvanand Jha, a professor at the University of Delhi, said the upcoming election was set to decide whether India “is going to remain as a republic as we know it or change formally into a majoritarian democracy,” and “whether it’s going to be a secular democratic republic, or turn into a Hindu-supremacist majoritarian country.”
The country’s Muslim community — which comprises more than 200 million people — has been increasingly marginalized since the BJP took power in 2014.
“(The election) is basically a fight for the soul of India. This government has made no secret of its Hindu-first ideology,” Ziya Us Salam, social commentator and author of “Being Muslim in Hindu India,” told Arab News.
“There is a lot at stake for Muslims. It’s not just an issue of employment or inflation; it is a question of identity. The right to life and livelihood is at stake.”

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