Modi the favourite as India readies for election marathon


Modi’s tenure has seen India overtake former colonial ruler Britain as the world’s fifth-biggest economy, with Western nations lining up to court a prospective ally against regional rival China’s growing assertiveness.

In doing so, they have sidestepped concerns over the taming of India’s once-vibrant press and restrictions on civil society that have seen rights groups like Amnesty severely curtail their local operations.

Last year, the tax office raided the BBC’s local offices weeks after the British broadcaster aired a documentary questioning Modi’s role in 2002 religious riots that killed around 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.

Should Modi win again, his third term “will be even more characterised by contempt for all dissent”, political scientist Suhas Palshikar told AFP.

Gandhi has criticised the government for democratic backsliding and its chest-thumping Hindu nationalism, which have left many among the country’s 220-million-strong Muslim minority fearful for their futures.

But Gandhi has already led Congress to two defeats against Modi and his efforts to dent the premier’s popularity have failed to register with voters.

Published opinion polls are rare in India, but a Pew survey last year found Modi was viewed favourably by nearly 80 per cent of the public.

A total of 968 million people are eligible to vote in the election – more than the entire population of the United States, European Union and Russia combined.

Voting will be staggered over seven stages between Apr 19 and Jun 1, with more than a million polling stations across the country.

Ballots from around the country will be counted all at once on Jun 4 and are usually announced on the same day.

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