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Violence And Mudslinging As Indian Election Enters Phase 6

Michelle Toh |
April 25, 2014 | 6:50 p.m. PDT

Assistant News Editor

Supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Trivandrum, Kerala in April 2014. (Creative Commons/gordontour)
Supporters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Trivandrum, Kerala in April 2014. (Creative Commons/gordontour)
Three suspected rebels and two Indian soldiers died Saturday in an overnight gunfight in the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, police said

The fight came two days after the Indian general election entered its sixth phase of voting Thursday. Despite long queues and sweltering temperatures soaring above the nineties, millions of voters in 117 constituencies continued to make their way to polling stations, in one of the later stages of what has widely been called the world's biggest exercise of democracy.  

It was the second-largest day of voting in the election, the AP reported. 

That same day, seven were killed and four wounded by suspected rebels in two separate attacks in the eastern state of Jharkhand and Kashmir. Authorities said the rebels, said to be Maoist insurgents, ambushed and shot four paramilitary soldiers and three polling officials on buses. Two of the officials had been carrying voting machines. 

Protests had also broken out earlier that day in Kashmir, where hundreds threw rocks at polling stations, chanting, "Down with India!" 

The authorities used tear gas and batons to disperse the crowds. Voting was not disrupted, the police told the AP, but 13 were injured in a separate incident with protesters in the Anantnag constituency.

Despite Kashmir's relatively small stake in the election - electing only six of 543 parliamentary members - they said voting would take place over the course of several days due to security concerns.

While Kashmir has long been an area of conflict, local rebels have been dissuading residents to boycott the vote to show refusal of their recognition of Indian sovereignty, according to the AP.

Meanwhile, Narendra Modi, leader of the primary national opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), proceeded to file his official nomination papers Thursday in the city of Varanasi, saying, "I am overwhelmed by the love showered on me by people of Varanasi." 

Modi is widely projected to win: opinion polls show he has taken a consistent and strong lead, "though it's important to note that Indian opinion polls have a history of projecting outcomes incorrectly," according to CNBC

Since 2001, Modi has been Chief Minister of Gujarat, India's tenth most-populous state of some 63 million, a considerable proportion of the nation's 814 million eligible voters, one that takes on an even greater importance in places like the Gujarat village of Raj Samadhiyala, where voting is mandated. In another example, the villagers of Valli, located 20 minutes by boat from Gujarat's adminstrative district, Anand, have been swimming across Lake Kanewal for the past four elections to produce a perfect voter turnout record, the Daily Mail reported. 

Regional influences have long been said to dominate the national political landscape, but this election of two vastly contrasting candidates has been seen as different. Modi's upbringing in a poor family and his campaign platform, which focuses strongly on economic revival, has been said to relate to voters, unlike his opponent Rahul Gandhi, current Vice President of the National Congress Party. Heir-apparent of the prominent Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Gandhi and his family has had a tight hold on Indian political authority since the country gained independence in 1947, with his father, Rajiv Gandhi, serving as the Indian Prime Minister in the 1980s and his mother, Sonia Gandhi, being the longest-serving President of Congress in the institution's history.

Congress faced defeat in four state elections held in December, "largely driven by the sour anti-incumbency mood, high food prices and anger over corruption," reported the New York Times. Hostility between the competitors has intensified by mudslinging and individual comments, such as those from Gandhi's sister Priyanka, who told constituents in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh Saturday not to vote for "outsiders." 

"I am not here to make you emotional, but to wipe your tears," Modi told voters at a rally in Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh in October. It was a direct jab at Gandhi, who had recently made several public speeches detailing the assassinations of his family members. "They killed my grandmother, father and will probably kill me too. I understand the pain of losing someone very close," he said.

Reports of Modi's predicted success has even led to top Indian economist Jagdish Bhagwati positioning himself as chief advisor in his new government, according to Reuters. Despite his confidence, however, Modi's slate is not without controversy: the candidate has perhaps most famously come under fire for his perceived negligence in the 2002 Gujarat riots, during which more than 1,000 people died, 2,500 were injured and hundreds went missing under his administration. An analysis done by Quartz also pointed out: "While... the state he oversaw is held up as a shining example of how India can and should grow, Gujarat's overall numbers actually show a mixed picture," with the state's quality of life ranking dropping sharply after Modi took office, according to the Human Development Index.

The election, spanning six weeks from April 7 to May 12, is the longest in the nation's history. Results will be revealed on May 16. 

Reach Assistant News Editor Michelle Toh here.



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