India’s gruelling, acrimonious election campaign comes to an end

Published May 30, 2024
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses supporters during an election campaign rally in New Delhi, India, May 22. — Reuters
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses supporters during an election campaign rally in New Delhi, India, May 22. — Reuters

More than two months of gruelling and acrimonious campaigning in India’s general election that played out in sweltering heat ended on Thursday, two days before the final phase of polling, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency will cast its votes.

India began voting in seven phases in the world’s largest election on April 19 and it is set to conclude on June 1. Votes will be counted on June 4 although television channels conduct exit polls and project results after voting ends.

Modi, who is seeking a record-equalling third straight term and is widely expected to win, began his re-election campaign by focusing on his achievements over the last 10 years but soon switched to mostly targeting the opposition by accusing them of favouring India’s minority Muslims.

This change of tack, analysts said, was likely aimed at firing up his Hindu nationalist base after a low turnout in the first phase sparked concerns that supporters of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were not voting.

India’s election rules stop campaigning about 36 hours before voting begins. Modi addressed one rally in the northern state of Punjab on Thursday, while his main opponent, the Congress party’s Rahul Gandhi, spoke at rallies in the states of Odisha and Punjab.

“It is clear from the overwhelming support of people […] that there is going to be an unprecedented victory” for BJP and the alliance it leads, Modi posted on X minutes before campaigning ended.

Modi will spend the next two days meditating at the southernmost tip of India at an island memorial for Hindu philosopher Swami Vivekananda, located where the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean converge.

Opposition parties criticised his decision, saying it was a form of campaigning as his meditation would be shown on TV and so was in breach of the rules, with the Congress complaining to the Election Commission.

“This is a blatant violation of the code of conduct. We don’t mind if he goes to meditate anywhere after June 1,” Congress spokesperson Jairam Ramesh said. Modi meditated at a cave in the Himalayas two days before the last phase of voting in 2019, an election BJP won resoundingly.

While opinion polls say his popularity has not waned, his opponents have criticised him for his divisive politics on issues such as unemployment, inflation and rural distress.

“No PM, in the past, has uttered hateful, unparliamentary, and coarse terms […] meant to target either a specific section of society or opposition,” former prime minister Manmohan Singh said in a letter to voters in Punjab on Thursday.

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