Indian electoral commission has announced it will hold a general election in seven stages starting on April 11.
In what will be the world’s biggest democratic exercise with Prime Minister Narendra Modi likely to benefit from the recent tensions with Pakistan.
Almost 1 billion citizens will be eligible to vote, 15 million of them aged between 18 and 19, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said at a press briefing in the capital New Delhi on Sunday.
Until a few weeks ago, a shortage of jobs and weak farm prices and corruption allegations were seen as seriously denting Modi’s popularity. But pollsters say his ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) now has a clear advantage after India’s armed forces clashed with those of arch-rival Pakistan last month, triggering a wave of patriotic fervour across the nation.
The recent clashes between India and Pakistan were triggered after a Feb. 14 suicide bombing that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in the northern region of Kashmir claimed by both countries. A militant group claimed responsibility for the attack and India accused Pakistan of complicity – a charge Pakistan denies.
Aerial confrontations between the nuclear-armed nations ensued and, although questions have been raised about how effective the Indian military action actually was, Modi’s approval rating soared.
Of the 543 parliamentary seats up for grabs, 241 could go to Modi’s ruling alliance, compared with 141 to the Congress Party-led opposition alliance, based on a poll by the polling agency which was conducted over the past four weeks.
Earlier surveys released in January, before the most recent tension with Pakistan, showed the BJP and its allies emerging as the largest group in the election but falling short of a majority.
However, the main opposition Congress party, which late last year ousted the BJP from power in three largely rural states, is trying to band together with regional and caste-based parties to oust Modi.
Congress, controlled by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that ruled India for most of its post-independence history, is banking on voter resentment to propel the opposition alliance to victory.
The electoral commission is working hard on monitoring and controlling the spread of fake news on the social media platforms to sway voters. WhatsApp has, in particular, become a key campaign tool used widely by both leading parties.
He also said Facebook, Twitter, Google and WhatsApp have committed to cracking down on fake news by deploying fact checkers and grievance officers.
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