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Penultimate phase of India election starts

Heat keeps millions away from ballot boxes as PM Modi looks for third term

By XU WEIWEI in Hong Kong and ARUNAVA DAS in Kolkata, India | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-05-27 09:18
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India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures as he addresses his supporters during an election campaign rally, in New Delhi, India, May 22, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

Indians lined up in scorching heat to cast their votes on Saturday in the sixth and penultimate phase of the country's marathon general election.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanked those who cast their ballots, saying on X, "NDA's (the National Democratic Alliance) numbers are looking better and better."

In the Lok Sabha (the lower house of Parliament) election phase that concluded on Saturday, more than 60 percent of voters in 58 seats in six states and two union territories were said to have cast votes. Turnout ranged from 54.03 percent in Uttar Pradesh to 79.25 percent in West Bengal.

"(Turnout) always remains high in West Bengal, partly due to its history and higher level of political awareness," said Karori Singh, former director and emeritus fellow of the South Asia Studies Centre at the University of Rajasthan in India.

Turnout was lower than in 2019 elections except in Kashmir, where it was just 8.98 percent in 2019 but 54.06 this year.

Singh said the low turnout could be attributed to the hot weather and people's lack of interest despite the elaborate arrangements and mobilization by the Election Commission and electoral campaigning by political parties.

To counter the fierce heat, the Election Commission has deployed paramedics with medicines and oral rehydration salts at polling stations in New Delhi, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported.

"Mist machines, shaded waiting areas and cold water dispensers" were provided for those who cast votes at some stations, it said.

Notable voters on Saturday included President Droupadi Murmu, Vice-President Jagdeep Dhankhar, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and the senior Congress leader Sonia Gandhi.

Low turnout could be both good and bad news for Modi, who is seeking a third straight term in the gargantuan electoral exercise open to nearly 970 million voters, analysts said.

"For a party expecting 400 seats, the joyous surge is missing," wrote Pratap Bhanu Mehta, a Laurence S. Rockefeller visiting professor for distinguished teaching at Princeton University, in the Indian Express newspaper.

"Narendra Modi will, in all likelihood, win convincingly. But the sense of riding to victory on a crescendo of acclamation is not coming easy.

"For the opposition, as well, one hoping for anti-incumbency, a surge of visible anger, enthusiasm for its leaders, or uptake for its ideology, is absent."

A total of 57 seats are left for the final and seventh phase elections, to be held on Saturday. Vote counting is due to take place on June 4, and results are expected to be announced the same day.

"The BJP-led NDA primarily focused on emotive issues whereas INC-led INDIA (an alliance of opposition parties) raised the issues of nonperformance of the government during their campaigning," Singh of the University of Rajasthan said.

"Baseless allegations and counter-allegations, and also the language being used by all the parties, are proving more entertaining for voters in informal chat and on social media."

Fire mishap

On Saturday, Modi conveyed his grief on social media over a fire in an amusement park in the western city of Rajkot that killed at least 27 people, including children.

"Extremely distressed by the fire mishap in Rajkot," he wrote on X. "My thoughts are with all those who have lost their loved ones. Prayers for the injured. The local administration is working to provide all possible assistance to those affected."

Police said many corpses were so badly burned that it was difficult to identify them. Fire department officials said they suspected a short-circuit had caused the fire.

"People got trapped as a temporary structure at the facility collapsed near the entrance, making it difficult for people to come out," Rajkot fire officer Ilesh Kher told reporters on the night of the fire.

Arunava Das is a freelance journalist for China Daily.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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