India Gears Up for Largest Democratic Exercise as Parliamentary Elections Loom

India is set to embark on a new parliamentary journey in seven phases between April 19 and early June 2024. The Indian elections stand as the world's largest democratic exercise, with nearly one billion eligible voters.

This electoral battle pits two formidable figures against each other: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his regional allies versus a coalition of two dozen opposition parties. Surveys indicate a landslide victory for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Modi.

A victory would mark Modi, aged 73, as the second prime minister after Jawaharlal Nehru, India's independence hero and first prime minister, to win a third consecutive term.

"We address you at a precious moment when we as a nation prepare to reaffirm our commitment to electoral democracy, when the people of India will collectively voice their desires once again," said Rajiv Kumar, chairman of the Indian Election Commission, as quoted by Reuters.

The final phase of polling from the seven phases will take place on June 1, with vote counting slated for June 4, he added.

Modi has termed it the "greatest festival of democracy" and stated that his party will campaign based on its track record of "good governance and public service."

"I am fully confident that we will receive the full affection and blessings" from over 960 million voters for the third consecutive time, he said in a series of posts on X.

Modi and his party have been campaigning for months. The prime minister has been flying across the country almost daily, inaugurating new projects, participating in religious events, and delivering speeches at public and private gatherings.

In his speeches, Modi has showcased India's economic growth, with the country currently being the fastest-growing economy globally, along with investments in infrastructure and welfare programs for the poor.

Opposition Alliance Struggles

A key talking point is also his party's agenda for the resurgence of Hinduism, including the inauguration of a grand temple for Lord Ram at the site of a demolished mosque.

Modi has set a target of 370 seats for the BJP and over 400 seats for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) he leads in the 543-member lower house of parliament, up from the 303 seats won by the BJP and over 350 seats won by the NDA in the 2019 elections.

Modi will be challenged by a coalition of two dozen opposition parties led by the main opposition party, the Congress, called INDIA or the Inclusive National Development Alliance India.

The alliance formed last year still struggles to remain united and share seats peacefully.

The party highlights unemployment, rural distress, what it terms as crony capitalism, the need for more affirmative action for the so-called backward castes, and the need to end religious polarization and hatred to defeat Modi.

Almost 970 million people are registered to vote at over a million polling stations in the massive elections, with 2,400 political parties likely to participate.

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