Surge in voter turnout in Indian polls – Majority forecast boosts India’s Modi










NEW DELHI: Hardline nationalist opposition leader Narendra Modi and his allies were forecast to win an overall majority in India’s elections in a poll Tuesday, dealing another blow to the beleaguered ruling Congress party. Eight days on from the start of the world’s biggest election, the survey for the NDTV network predicted for the first time that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would not have to seek new partners in order to govern, giving it more freedom to implement its Hindu nationalist agenda.

The poll also forecast that Congress, which has governed India for most of the post-independence era, would hit an all-time low in results on May 16, highlighting the damage wrought by allegations of a split leadership. Two books released this week have portrayed outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a weak leader who struggled to control his cabinet over the last decade while party president Sonia Gandhi called the shots.

There was further bad news for Congress when official data showed the year-on-year inflation rate accelerated in March to a three-month high of 5.7 percent, dashing hopes of an interest rate cut to boost the struggling economy. With Congress in disarray, NDTV forecast that the BJP-led opposition alliance would win 275 seats in the 543-seat Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament), 16 more than predicted in the last survey a month ago.

The BJP on its own would win 226 seats but it would avoid the need to find new coalition partners since its existing allies would push it over the 50 percent threshold, the survey said. Congress would see its tally of seats drop to a record low of 92, the same poll projected. India’s opinion polls are historically unreliable, partly because of the country’s vast and diverse electorate. But the latest one reflects a growing trend of support for the BJP and flagging popularity for Congress.

“There are two clear trends in the groundswell, anger against the Congress and the hope in Narendra Modi,” Arun Jaitley, one of the BJP’s senior leaders, said in a blog after the poll’s release. “My own view is that the actual poll always results in the frontrunner getting more than what is projected,” he added. All previous polls have forecast that the BJP-led alliance would fall short of a majority, thus forcing it to seek additional partners who would likely want to temper some of the more controversial policy goals. Amulya Ganguli, a political commentator, said that Muslims in particular would be alarmed at the prospect of Modi securing a majority given his reputation as a Hindu hardliner.

‘Unease among Muslims’
“If BJP and its allies go on to win some 275 seats, it will create a great deal of uneasiness especially among the Muslims,” he told AFP. The BJP’s manifesto includes a number of commitments that worry Muslims, such as a longstanding demand for the building of a temple to honor the Hindu god Ram on the site of India’s most notorious religious flashpoint. Modi is still reviled by many Muslims as he was chief minister of Gujarat state in 2002 when at least 1,000 people were killed in religious riots there.

Most of the victims were Muslims. Analysts had been predicting that any Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) projects that Modi might seek to project in power would likely be limited by the compulsions of coalition politics. K G Suresh, of the Delhi-based Vivekananda think-tank, said an outright majority would indeed “give the BJP the requisite freedom to pursue and implement most of its agenda”.

However Suresh said there were signs Modi had already diluted some of the BJP’s more hardline religious policies. If the BJP-led alliance does fall short of a majority, it is expected to try and strike a deal with the West Bengal-based Trinamool party which was forecast by NDTV to be the third largest party with 30 seats. Trinamool’s firebrand leader Mamata Banerjee said Tuesday the idea of a Modi premiership was “fantasy”.

But in the same interview Banerjee, a former coalition ally of Congress, indicated she was open to offers as long as West Bengal benefited. “Bengal does not need to go with a begging bowl. We are only asking for what is due to us,” she told the Press Trust of India news agency. The marathon elections began on April 7 and will wrap up on May 12. Results are expected four days later.

Meanwhile, turnout in India’s multi-phase election is so far almost eight percentage points higher than last time, data showed Wednesday, reflecting enthusiasm for polls expected to bring the opposition Hindu nationalists to power. Polling in five of the ten phases has been completed, with the biggest day of voting set for Thursday. The last ballots will be cast on May 12 and final counting is scheduled for May 16. “The aggregation of figures from these 111 seats gives a 2014 polling percentage of 68.29, almost 8.0 percentage points higher from 60.39 percent for the same seats in 2009,” Akshay Rout, director general of the national election commission, told reporters.

The number of ballots cast in these seats has increased by 28.8 percent between 2009 and 2014. The electoral rolls have swelled by 100 million since 2009 due to India’s growing population. Officials attributed the significant surge in voter turnout to a variety of factors, including increased awareness about the election. “One reason could be a significant increase in polling hours, which are almost 11 hours at several places. Besides, we have also carried out massive publicity and awareness campaign, particularly targeting the youth across the country,” Rout said.

Another reason could be an increase in the number of women voters and strong anti-incumbency sentiment in the country, which returned the Congress party to power in 2009 for a second term. Most opinion polls in the last few months have predicted a rout for the left-leaning ruling alliance led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress supremo Sonia Gandhi.

The polls predict that an alliance led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, led by hardliner Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial candidate, will form India’s next national government. A total of 814 million adults are eligible to vote in the ongoing elections. – AFP


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