NEW DELHI: Tens of millions of Indians joined nationwide queues on Thursday to give their verdict on nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi as the world’s biggest election started amid deadly clashes.
Election officials reported a heavy turnout across the 20 states taking part in the first day of the massive exercise which involves 900 million eligible voters and will take nearly six weeks to complete.
While the 68-year-old Modi remains popular because of his tough stance on national security, he is under pressure over unemployment and controversial economic reforms.
Insults and fake news have surged on social media in the run-up to the poll as Modi’s right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress party stake rival claims.
On the ground, security forces were on high alert and three members of rival regional parties were killed in clashes outside polling stations in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
After five people including a local lawmaker were killed by a roadside bomb planted by suspected Maoist rebels on Tuesday, insurgents were blamed for two voting day blasts in Maharashtra state, where two police were injured, and one in Chhattisgarh state.
In occupied-Kashmir one teenager was killed in clashes with security forces.
Police said the 13-year-old boy was killed and six people wounded in protests after polling ended, with demonstrators throwing stones and government forces firing live ammunition.
Tens of thousands of police, paramilitaries and troops were on voting duty in the volatile state.
Thousands of candidates from more than 2,000 parties are running for office in the seven separate days of voting in 543 constituencies up to May 19. Final results will be released on May 23.
Some 1.1 million electronic voting machines are being taken around the country, with some transported through jungles and carried up mountains, including to a hamlet near the Chinese border with just one voter.
About 142 million people were eligible for the first day of voting.
In the northeastern state of Assam, queues started forming well before voting opened, including many of the 84 million first-time voters who could play a decisive role in the outcome.
“It’s a great feeling to cast the vote, which makes me a part of the democratic system and makes me responsible for electing a good leader,” Anurag Baruah, 23, said.
Modi swept to power in 2014 with the biggest landslide in 30 years.
The BJP has put Modi left, right and centre of its campaign to secure a second five year term.
Published in Dawn, April 12th, 2019