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Majuli (Assam, India): Election officials and paramilitary personnel travel with election materials on a country boat to cross the River Brahmaputra on the eve of first phase of general election on Wednesday.—AP
Majuli (Assam, India): Election officials and paramilitary personnel travel with election materials on a country boat to cross the River Brahmaputra on the eve of first phase of general election on Wednesday.—AP

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

A bomb blast on 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 on Thursday (today), state police chief D.M Awasthi said.

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.

Seats in 20 states will be decided on the first of seven days of voting spread over six weeks.

Modi’s right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (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.

Chhattisgarh is among sensitive states where polling is staggered over several weeks so security and administrative staff can be moved around.

The killing of a local leader of a Hindu nationalist group in India-held Kashmir on Tuesday reinforced fears of trouble during voting. Parts of held Kashmir will also vote on Thursday.

Tensions also simmered in the eastern state of Odisha where two landmines were recovered by patrols, and in nearby Bihar where two roadside bombs were detonated.

Modi film

The Election Commission banned on Wednesday the release of a biopic about Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the country’s marathon elections after complaints that the flattering portrayal would give the ruling party an unfair advantage. In a win for the opposition, the Commis­sion barred the cinematic release of the film until voting concludes on May 19.

Congress insisted it was propaganda and resisted the timing of its release, even taking its fight to the country’s highest court.

Under Indian election rules, the publication of any content deemed as campaign material — including advertisements, films and even social media — requires the election commission’s prior approval.

The commission said the film “has the potential to disturb the level playing field during the elections”. The film had been granted a censors’ certificate and was planned to release on Thursday as the first wave of voters went to the ballot box.

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2019