Narendra Modi the favourite as India readies for election marathon

Wednesday, Apr 17, 2024

NEW DELHI: India begins voting on Friday in a six-week election, with Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s victory all but assured, raising concerns for the health of the world’s largest democracy.

Modi remains roundly popular after a decade in office that has seen India rise in diplomatic clout and economic power, as well as efforts by his government to bring the country’s majority faith in ever closer alignment with its politics.

Analysts have long expected him to win against a fractious alliance of more than two dozen parties who have yet to name a candidate for prime minister.

Modi’s prospects have been further bolstered by several criminal probes into his opponents, sparking concerns from UN rights chief Volker Turk and human rights organisations that the vote will be skewed.

“I don’t need the United Nations to tell me our elections should be free and fair,” foreign minister S. Jaishankar told reporters while campaigning this month.

“The people of India will ensure that,” he added. “So don’t worry about it.”

Modi, 73, has already led the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) through two landslide victories in 2014 and 2019, forged in part by his appeals to the Hindu faithful.

This year in the town of Ayodhya, he presided over the inauguration of a grand temple to the deity Ram, built on the grounds of a centuries-old mosque razed by Hindu zealots.

Construction of the temple fulfilled a long-standing demand of Hindu activists and was widely celebrated across India with back-to-back television coverage and street parties.

“The nation is creating the genesis of a new history,” he told the thousands gathered for the ceremony, among them Bollywood celebrities and cricket stars.

The opposition Congress party, which ruled the country almost uninterrupted for decades after independence from Britain, is meanwhile a shadow of its former self and out of office in all but three of the country’s 28 states.