Anti-Pakistan rhetoric on the rise as India goes to polls

According to the Chief Election Commissioner, votes will be counted on May 23

Reuters March 10, 2019
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI: India will hold a general election in seven stages starting on April 11, the election commission said on Sunday, in what will be the world's biggest democratic exercise with Prime Minister Narendra Modi likely to benefit from tension with Pakistan.

Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora told reporters that about 900 million voters would be eligible for the polls, about 15 million between the ages of 18 and 19 years.

Until a few weeks ago, a shortage of jobs and weak farm
prices were seen as denting Modi's popularity. But pollsters say his ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a clear advantage over opposition parties after India's armed forces clashed with those of arch-rival Pakistan last month, triggering a wave of patriotic fervour across the country of 1.3 billion.

"For the first time I will vote for Narendra Modi, because I like what he has done against Pakistan," said Anjali Tivari as she was picking up her son from school in Mumbai.

"I'm impressed. He gave the right answer to Pakistan." Modi touted his government's achievements in a series of tweets after the announcement.

Anti-Pakistan wave helps Modi salvage some votes from India's unhappy farms

"I hope this election witnesses a historic turnout. I
particularly call upon first-time voters to vote in record
numbers," Modi tweeted.

Speaking at a news conference on Sunday, Arora said an
election commission team had visited the state to speak to
stakeholders and has decided to appoint three special observers
to the region to monitor the polling.

He said assembly elections that are due to be held in the state, where the assembly was dissolved last year, won't take place simultaneously with the general election. Although questions were raised about how effective the
Indian military action actually was, Modi's approval rating has
soared. HSBC Securities and Capital Markets said in a note that
national security and nationalism could trump economic issues in
determining voters preferences.

India's unemployment rate in February rose to the highest since September 2016, data from private think-tank Centre for
Monitoring Indian Economy showed, even as the economy grew at
its slowest pace in five quarters in the last three months of
last year.

Votes will be counted on May 23, he said.