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Media captionThis is the largest election the world has ever seen

Tens of millions of Indians have voted on the first day of a general election that is being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Indians in 20 states and union territories cast their ballots in 91 constituencies.

The seven-phase vote to elect a new lower house of parliament will continue until 19 May. Counting day is 23 May.

With 900 million eligible voters across the country, this is the largest election ever seen.

Some observers have billed the vote as the most important in decades and the tone of the campaign has been acrimonious.

Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a historic landslide in the last elections in 2014. He stakes his claim to lead India on a tough image and remains the governing BJP’s main vote-getter.

But critics say his promises of economic growth and job creation haven’t met expectations, and India has become more religiously polarised under his leadership.

The BJP faces challenges from strong regional parties and a resurgent Congress party, led by Rahul Gandhi. Mr Gandhi’s father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all Indian prime ministers. His sister, Priyanka Gandhi, formally launched her political career in January.

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Mr Modi has made national security a key election issue

How has voting gone on day one?

The Lok Sabha, or lower house of parliament, has 543 elected seats and any party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs to form a government.

Hundreds of voters began to queue up outside polling centres early Thursday morning for the first of seven days of voting over six weeks. Their concerns ranged from jobs and unemployment to India’s role in the world and national security.

Many, like Dashami Majumdar, a 23 year old with two children, were focused on local issues – namely “better roads”.

“Nobody tells me who to vote for, my vote is mine, my vote is my independence,” she told the BBC in Cooch Behar, in West Bengal.

Another voter there, Shzina Bibi, a 28-year-old housewife with two children, said she was looking at what the political parties, not individual candidates, would do for Indian society.

“We need more communal peace in India. We need to live together with more tolerance,” she said.

But in some places, voters were furious to find they were not on the rolls. In the southern state of Telangana, Shobhana Kamineni was distraught to find that she was not able to cast a ballot.

“This is a crime against me as a citizen and I will not tolerate it,” she told BBC Telugu.

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A little boy clutches his father outside a polling booth in Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh state

In Baghpat, a constituency in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, scores of Muslim and Dalit (formerly “untouchable”) voters also complained that their names were missing.

Violence also flared in several places. Two people died in separate clashes at polling stations in southern Andhra Pradesh state.

In central Chhattisgarh state, suspected Maoist rebels detonated an IED device near a polling booth at about 04:00 local time (22:30 GMT) – no injuries were reported.

India votes 2019

How big is this election?

It is mind-bogglingly vast – about 900 million people above the age of 18 will be eligible to cast their ballots at one million polling stations. At the last election, voter turnout was about 66%.

No voter is meant to have to travel more than 2km to reach a polling station. Because of the enormous number of election officials and security personnel involved, voting is taking place in seven stages between 11 April and 19 May.

More than 140 million people were eligible to vote in the first phase of the election on Thursday.

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Indian lambadi tribeswomen at a polling station in southern India

The states and union territories that went to the polls were: Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Sikkim, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Lakshadweep.

Polling in some states, such as Andhra Pradesh and Nagaland, will conclude in one day. But other states, such as Uttar Pradesh, will hold polls in several phases.

India’s historic first election in 1951-52 took three months to complete. Between 1962 and 1989, elections were completed in four to 10 days. The four-day elections in 1980 were the country’s shortest ever.

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Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, and his sister Priyanka Gandhi, come from a political dynasty

What are the key issues?

Hundreds of millions of Indians have escaped poverty since the turn of the millennium but huge challenges remain.

Under Mr Modi, the world’s sixth-largest economy appears to have lost some of its momentum. Although annual GDP growth has hovered at about 7%, unemployment is a major concern.

Mr Modi’s government has been accused of hiding uncomfortable jobs data. In fact, a leaked government report suggests that the unemployment rate is the highest it has been since the 1970s.

What Indian voters are being promised

Jobs



– Fill 400,000 vacancies in various state organisations, the judiciary and parliament by 31 March 2020
– Angel taxes imposed on start-ups to be withdrawn immediately
– Application fees for government examinations and government posts to be abolished.



– Increase public and private investment in infrastructure that will also lead to creation of a large number of jobs
– Ensure 10% quota for economically weak sections of society in government jobs and higher education institutes

Farmers



– Not allow criminal proceedings to be instituted against any farmer unable to repay debt
– Present a separate “farmers budget” to ensure priority is given to agricultural issues
– Redesign the current government’s crop insurance scheme which has not been beneficial to farmers



– Double farmers’ income by 2022
– A scheme to ensure financial support to small and medium farmers will be expanded to cover all farmers
– Introduce a pension scheme for small farmers and traders

Income Support



– Guarantee an income for 50 million of India’s poorest families
– A government programme that guarantees 100 days of paid work to every rural household will be increased to 150 days



– Bring down the percentage of families living below the poverty line to a single digit in the next five years
– Ensure a permanent house for every family.
– Give gas cylinder connections to all poor rural households

Economy and Taxes



– Reform the Goods and Services Tax introduced by the government
– Achieve a fiscal deficit target of 3% of GDP by 2020-21
– Enact the Direct Taxes Code within one year of government
– Work with the central bank to simplify the procedures banks use to verify customers



– Simplify the Goods and Services Tax in consultation with all stakeholders
– Make capital investment of Rs.100 lakh crore in the infrastructure sector
– Launch a new scheme to provide collateral-free credit up to five million rupees for entrepreneurs.
– Promote and encourage start-ups through creation of a ‘Seed Start-up Fund’

Education



– Pass a law to provide for quotas to disprivileged people in private higher education institutions
– Primary and secondary education in public schools to be compulsory and free
– Double the allocation for education to 6% of GDP
– Introduce vocational training as a compulsory component of the syllabus



– Increase the number of admissions in central law, engineering, science and management institutions by at least 50%.
– Set up a medical college in every district
– Establish teacher training institutes

Women



– Pass the Constitution (Amendment) Bill to provide for reservation of 33 per cent of seats in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha and in the Rajya Sabha.
– Every Special Economic Zone shall have working women’s hostels and safe transport facilities to increase the participation of women in the labour force.
– Sufficient night shelters will be built for migrant women workers. Adequate number of safe and hygienic public toilets for women will be provided in towns and cities. Sanitary napkin vending machines will be installed in public spaces,schools and colleges.
– Review the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplaces Act, 2013 and extend the Act to all workplaces.
– Launch a programme to appoint an Adhikar Maitri in every Panchayat to serve as a paralegal to educate women on, and assist them in, their legal rights.



– Ensure justice for Muslim women by enacting a law against triple talaq (instant divorce)
– Formulate a roadmap to increase female workforce participation.
– Number of childcare facilities to be increased three fold by 2022.
– Sanitary pads to be provided to all women and girls for just one rupee ($0.014)
– Bring 33% reservation in parliament and state assemblies for women

Health



-Guarantee every citizen the right to healthcare services
– Double the total government expenditure on healthcare to 3% of GDP by 2023-24
– Ensure that mental healthcare professionals are appointed at all public district hospitals and that mental healthcare services are made freely available
– Trauma and Emergency Centres to be established on all national and state highways



– Establish 150,000 new health and wellness centres
– Increase the doctor-population ratio to 1:1,400
– Improve facilities at existing Health and Wellness Centres by 2022

Miscellaneous



– Make ‘defamation’ a civil instead of a criminal offence
– Remove the charge of sedition from the Indian penal code
– Strengthen the press council to protect the freedom of journalists, uphold editorial independence and guard against government interference
– Pass a law to curb monopolies in the media, cross-ownership of different segments of the media and control of the media by other business organisations
– Reduce the presence of the Army and paramilitary forces in the Kashmir Valley, and entrust more responsibility to the state police to maintain law and order
– Pass a new law to prevent and punish mob action and hate crime
– Direct that gender sensitivity training, especially for the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, be made mandatory in all government departments and organisations including the Armed Forces and the Police Forces



– Ensure electricity for every household in the country
– Continue a policy of ‘Zero Tolerance’ against terrorism and extremism
– Enact the Citizenship Amendment Bill to protect religious minorities from neighbouring countries who are escaping persecution
– Annul Article 35A of the Constitution which gives Kashmir special status
– Ensure piped water to every household by 2024
– Construct an additional 60,000 km of national highways in the next five years
– Explore all possibilities within the framework of the Constitution to facilitate the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya

Farm incomes have also stagnated because of a crop glut and declining commodity prices, which have left farmers saddled with debt.

Unsurprisingly both parties have targeted the rural poor in their campaign manifestos. The BJP has promised a slew of welfare schemes for India’s farmers, while Congress has promised a minimum income scheme for the country’s 50 million poorest families.

National security is also in the spotlight this election after a suicide attack by a Pakistan-based militant group killed at least 40 paramilitary police in Indian-administered Kashmir in February. India then carried out unprecedented air strikes in Pakistan.

Since then, the BJP has made national security a key plank in its campaign.