There are several democracies in the world where elections are held regularly. But there are only a few countries whose elections are watched keenly by the world media. India is one among them. There are two reasons for this supreme interest: first, with a population of more than 800 million, it’s a mammoth exercise and second, despite the size and other dimensions, the elections are always free and fair with not even one party complaining about its fairness. But the elections this year have generated huge interest for another reason: the Hindu nationalists led by the controversial Narendra Modi are expected to capture power from the Congress-led coalition.
The elections started on April 7 and will continue until May 12. The counting will be held on May 16. Around 814 million people will be voting in a nine-phased election over six weeks at more than 930,000 polling stations all over the country.
In keeping with the diversity of India, the number of parties contesting in the elections is also huge. But the main contest is between the Congress-led and BJP-led (Bharatiya Janata Party) coalitions. Among the main issues are corruption and secularism.
One major reason the election has attracted global attention is the candidature of controversial Narendra Modi as prime minister in the BJP coalition. Modi has been vilified for bloody communal riots that broke out in his state of Gujarat in 2002 when he was the chief minister. Though no court has found him guilty, Modi has been accused of turning a blind eye when rioters went on a killing spree. Presiding over the riots has been the most disastrous blemish he has been carrying, which has made him very unpopular among Muslims. At the same time, Modi is celebrated by India’s corporate executives. Modi is the preferred candidate of India’s corporate sector and they are funding his campaigns. Modi projects toughness as a central message, offering a vivid contrast with the ineffectual Congress party which has been mired in corruption. It’s the dismal performance of the Congress government led by its prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and huge corruption cases involving its ministers and officials running into thousands of crores of rupees that have made Congress unpopular among large sections of the electorate. If Modi has been popular and has been able to sell his agenda to Indians, the responsibility for this must be shared by the Congress leaders. It’s their ineptitude and corruption which have made the public turn to Modi.
All opinion polls are saying that the BJP-led coalition is likely to win the election. At the same time, most of the international media have been apprehensive of Modi and even wrote editorials saying that Modi is not good for Indian secularism. But whether anybody likes it or not, the verdict of the people must be respected.