• Monday, June 17, 2024

India News

India elections 2024: What we learned this week

Supporters of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) celebrate after Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal was given temporary bail by India’s Supreme Court in a liquor policy case in New Delhi, India, May 10, 2024. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

By: Pramod Thomas

THE third phase of India’s elections saw a voter turnout of nearly 62 per cent across 93 constituencies in 11 states and union territories.

Assam state recorded the highest turnout at 75.53 per cent, followed by Goa at 74.47 per cent and West Bengal at 73.93 per cent.

The lowest turnout was in Maharashtra at 55.54 per cent. The election commission reported an overall voting percentage of around 61.89 per cent, noting that these figures are approximate and likely to rise as data is collected. Voting continued beyond the official time deadline to accommodate voters in the queue.

Key political figures, including prime minister Narendra Modi and union home minister Amit Shah, cast their votes in Gujarat.

Narendra Modi (R), and home minister, Amit Shah leave after casting their ballot at a polling booth at Ranip, Ahmedabad on May 7, 2024. (Photo by SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

Voter turnout, however, has been a concern as the first two phases registered marginally lower numbers compared to 2019 polls and figures from the Election Commission showed a fall as well at around 62 per cent, compared to around 66 per cent in the same phase five years back.

The fourth phase of the Lok Sabha elections will take place on May 13, when 96 constituencies from 10 States will go to the polls. All the constituencies of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana will vote in a single phase on May 13.

There will be three more phases in the elections and the result will be declared on June 4.

Here’s a look at the key election developments this week:

Kejriwal gets bail to campaign in elections

India’s top court gave temporary bail to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal in a graft case on Friday (10), allowing him to campaign in the ongoing general elections, boosting the opposition alliance of which he is a prominent figure.

The Supreme Court said Kejriwal – a fierce critic of Modi – would be out on bail until June 1, the last day of the nationwide seven-phase vote, and would have to return to pre-trial detention on June 2.

Arvind Kejriwal (C) addresses his supporters and party members upon his release from the prison on interim bail in the capital on May 10, 2024. (Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

India began voting on April 19 and elections for more than half of the 543 seats in parliament have now been completed following the third phase of the vote on May 7.

The two areas governed by Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – the National Capital Territory that includes New Delhi, and the northern state of Punjab – go to the polls on May 25 and June 1 respectively.

“This is the victory of democracy,” Kejriwal’s wife Sunita posted on X after the court order.

AAP members began celebrating on hearing the news, beating drums, dancing and shouting slogans praising Kejriwal and criticising Modi as they gathered outside the party office in the capital.

“Today, the Supreme Court has struck a ray of hope in the hearts of the people who love this country, the constitution, and democracy…this is a victory of truth,” Delhi environment minister and senior AAP leader Gopal Rai told reporters.

Sam Pitroda quits after landing Congress in new mess

Sam Pitroda resigned as the chairman of the Indian Overseas Congress on Wednesday (8) after his controversial remarks on diversity in India spurred the ruling BJP to label the party “racist”.

Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said on X that party chief Mallikarjun Kharge accepted Pitroda’s decision.

FILE PHOTO: Sam Pitroda (NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images)

In a podcast interview, Pitroda said, “We have survived 75 years in a very happy environment where people could live together, leaving aside a few fights here and there. We could hold the country as diverse as India together. Where people in the east look like the Chinese, people in the west look like the Arabs, people in the north look like, maybe, white and people in the south look like Africans.”

“It does not matter. All of us are brothers and sisters. We respect different languages, different religions, different customs, different food,” he said.

The Congress swiftly distanced itself from Pitroda’s comments after the remarks went viral, triggering a political firestorm.

BJP, however, latched on to Pitroda’s remarks to hit out at the Congress and said the opposition party is getting increasingly unmasked as the polls progress in the country.

It claimed that Pitroda’s “racist” comments have betrayed the Congress’s bid to divide the country on the lines of race, religion and caste.

Ambani and Adani dragged into India’s election rhetoric

Narendra Modi and election rival Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi traded barbs about campaign funding on Wednesday (8), with both sides accusing the other of taking money from top industrialists Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani.

 

Gautam Adani (4L) and his wife Priti Adani (2L) show their inked finger after casting their ballot to vote in Ahmedabad on May 7, 2024. (Photo by SAM PANTHAKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Neither of the business leaders have made any public comment about who they might support in the election, if anyone, and their businesses did not reply to requests for comment. Neither candidate presented any evidence for their claims.

The comments from Modi seek to counter Gandhi’s long-running criticism about what he says are Modi’s ties to the country’s two richest men, weeks into the election where differences over growth, poverty and unemployment are key themes.

But the ramped up rhetoric could also be part of a change of tack from Modi.

A lower turnout so far in the six-week vote has rattled Modi’s campaign managers and called into question whether his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies can achieve the landslide predicted by opinion polls a month ago, BJP leaders and political analysts have told Reuters.

Mukesh Ambani (Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP via Getty Images)

They say the lack of momentum seems to have prompted Modi to change the thrust of his campaign speeches, focusing on economic growth before the first phase of voting to now attacking rivals as pro-Muslims and in other ways in bid to fire up the party’s hardline base.

“For five years you abused Ambani-Adani and now suddenly you have stopped. Meaning, you have accepted truckloads of some illegal funds. You’ll have to answer to the country about this,” Modi said at an election rally.

BJP deletes X post accused of targeting Muslims

Modi’s party on Wednesday (8) deleted a cartoon video posted on social media platform X that was criticised for targeting minority Muslims during an ongoing national election.

India’s election code bans campaigning based on “communal” incitement but the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has frequently invoked the country’s main religious divide on the campaign trail.

The video, posted by an official BJP account, featured caricatures of opposition politicians scheming to abolish special affirmative action programmes for marginalised Hindu groups and instead distribute them to Muslims.

The election commission wrote to the platform’s Indian office on Tuesday saying the “objectionable” post violated Indian law.

On Wednesday the original post had disappeared from the platform, with a notice saying it had been deleted.

A police complaint filed by the opposition Congress party accused the video of promoting “enmity between different religions”.

Trivia

Row over Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remarks

Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s remarks on Pakistan sparked a row on Friday (10), with his party quick to dissociate itself from the comments while the ruling BJP latched on to those, accusing the grand old party of being an apologist for Pakistan and the terrorism emanating from its soil. In comments that have gone viral on social media, Aiyar is heard saying that India should give respect to Pakistan as it is a sovereign nation and engage with it as it also possesses an atom bomb.

FILE PHOTO: Mani Shankar Aiyar (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

Aiyar said the video was old and dredged up now as the BJP’s election campaign is faltering.

Why is Pakistan being discussed when elections are taking place in India and the unemployment rate here is at a 45-year high, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra askedas she hit back at the BJP on the row.

Quote of the week

“I had told you, I will come out soon… I want to thank the Supreme Court judges for granting me interim bail and crores of people for their blessings,” said Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal after stepping out of jail.

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