India elections set for April 11 to May 19

India's Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora during a press conference in New Delhi on Sunday. (AP)
Updated 11 March 2019
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India elections set for April 11 to May 19

  • 900 million voters to decide 543 parliamentary seats
  • They are the two strongest challengers from a field of hundreds of political parties from across the country

NEW DELHI: India on Sunday announced the dates for its 17th general elections to be held in seven phases between April 11 and May 19.  The result will be announced on May 23. The Election Commission of India announced the much-awaited poll date at a packed press conference on Sunday. The chief election commissioner, Sunil Arora, declared that 900 million voters will decide the fate of 543 members of the Lower House of Parliament.
“The overall electorate of around 900 million is 84.3 million more than the number of people recognized as voters during the 2014 parliamentary elections,” Arora said.
He added that 10.5 million first-time voters would exercise their franchise this year. There will be one million polling stations spread across 29 states and seven Union territories to conduct the seven- phase polls.
With the formal announcement of the election dates the electoral code of conducts come into play and the government is barred from taking new policy decisions or announce new schemes.
The main interest of this crucial election is whether the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, manages to retain power.
In the 2014 general elections Modi won 282 seats — a majority of 10 — breaking a 30-year-old jinx. He rode to victory on popular sentiment against Dr. Manmohan Singh’s United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, led by the Congress Party.
Opinion polls predict electoral victory for the BJP but no absolute majority. However, Prime Minister Modi remains the most popular leader in the country.
However, the Congress-led opposition hopes to regain some lost ground by forming an alliance with the regional parties in different states.
Victory in the three regional elections last December gave it new confidence and it hopes to maintain the momentum in the parliamentary elections.
Some of the issues expected to dominate the elections are joblessness, the economic slump and the environment of fear created by the rise of majoritarian politics.
However, the ruling party hopes to retain power on the basis of its social sector schemes, its anti-corruption drive and its hard-core nationalistic agenda.
The prevailing hyper-nationalism in the wake of the recent military engagement with Pakistan is a big electoral asset for the BJP. The party has already announced that military action against Pakistan in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack in Kashmir would be an election issue.
In a tweet immediately after the announcement of the election dates, Modi sought “the blessing” of voters again.
“The last five years have shown that with the blessings and participation of 130 crore Indians, what was earlier deemed impossible has now become possible. 2019 polls are about a spirit of confidence and positivity with which India is fulfilling the aspirations of its people,” he tweeted. “NDA (National Democratic Alliance ) seeks your blessings again. We spent the last five years fulfilling basic necessities that were left unfulfilled for 70 long years.”
The most important recent alliance between the opposition parties was in the eastern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members to Parliament. Two strong regional parties — the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party — formed an electoral alliance. They also have a broad understanding with the Congress party in the state. The BJP won 71 seats last time, which was crucial in securing an absolute majority. The strategy now is to challenge the ruling party in its bastion and bring down its tally radically.
Similar alliances have been formed in larger states such as West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Bihar. If the opposition’s game plan succeeds it will be a tough battle for Modi.
“This is the most significant elections in India since 1977, when the country voted after the two-year Emergency,” says Delhi based political analyst, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.
“The basic foundations of democracy had been shaken at that time. India has been facing a similar kind of situation in the past five years,” Mukhopadhyay told Arab News. “I won’t predict the winner at this stage. It’s going to be a tough battle.”


Indian police file case against 3 over coaching center fire, death toll rises to 20

Updated 13 min 55 sec ago
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Indian police file case against 3 over coaching center fire, death toll rises to 20

  • Commissioner of Police in the city of Surat said one of the three men named in the police report ran the classes and has been arrested
  • The Gujarat government has ordered an inquiry into the incident, as well as a fire safety audit of schools, colleges, coaching centers and commercial buildings in Surat

NEW DELHI: Indian police said on Saturday they had filed a culpable homicide case against three people as the death toll from a building fire in India’s Gujarat state rose to 20, with students attending coaching classes accounting for all those killed.
Satish Sharma, Commissioner of Police in the city of Surat, told reporters that one of the three men named in the police report ran the classes and has been arrested, though no charges have been brought yet.
The Gujarat government has ordered an inquiry into the incident, as well as a fire safety audit of schools, colleges, coaching centers and commercial buildings in Surat, where the fire occurred.
Some eyewitnesses and families of the victims have alleged fire officials were slow to arrive, according to Reuters partner ANI. Paresh Patel, whose daughter was inside the commercial complex when the fire broke out, said the fire brigade took 45 minutes to arrive. “Even though my daughter got saved, she is still in trauma,” he told ANI.
Initial investigations showed the fire, which broke out in the stairway of the multi-story Takshashila Arcade building, was caused by a short circuit, according to local media reports. Police were not immediately available to comment on Saturday.
A government official said at least 50 students were in the complex when the fire broke out. Injured victims were rushed to hospitals and the toll could rise further.
Television footage showed students desperately trying to escape by jumping off the building as smoke billowed from the top floor.
“To avoid such tragic incidents, I have asked officials to conduct fire safety audit of all buildings,” Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said on Friday.
There was no safety equipment installed in the building and no escape routes for the students, a fire official separately said.
Police said the building owner was among the three people named in the report but did not provide further details on their identities.