India starts voting in the world’s largest election as Modi seeks third term as PM

India starts voting in the world’s largest election as Modi seeks third term as PM
People arrive to cast their votes at a polling station during the first phase of general election, in Alipurduar district in the eastern state of West Bengal, India on April 19, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 19 April 2024
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India starts voting in the world’s largest election as Modi seeks third term as PM

India starts voting in the world’s largest election as Modi seeks third term as PM
  • Nearly 970 million voters will elect 543 members to lower house of Parliament 
  • The staggered elections will run until June 1, votes will be counted on June 4

NEW DELHI: Millions of Indians began voting Friday in a six-week election that’s a referendum on Narendra Modi, the populist prime minister who has championed an assertive brand of Hindu nationalist politics and is seeking a rare third term as the country’s leader.
The voters began queuing up at polling stations hours before they were allowed in at 7 a.m. in the first 21 states to hold votes, from the Himalayan mountains to the tropical Andaman Islands. Nearly 970 million voters — more than 10 percent of the world’s population — will elect 543 members to the lower house of Parliament for five years during the staggered elections that run until June 1. The votes will be counted on June 4.
One voter said she came early to avoid the summer heat later in the day.
Prime Minister Modi urged people to vote in record numbers. “I particularly call upon the young and first-time voters to vote in large numbers. After all, every vote counts and every voice matters!” he said in a message on the social media platform X.
This election is seen as one of the most consequential in India’s history and will test the limits of Modi’s political dominance.
If Modi wins, he’ll be only the second Indian leader to retain power for a third term, after Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister.
Most polls predict a win for Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, who are up against a broad opposition alliance led by the Indian National Congress and powerful regional parties.
It’s not clear who will lead India if the opposition alliance, called INDIA, wins the election. Its more than 20 parties have not put forward a candidate, saying they will choose one after the results are known.
The BJP is facing the toughest challenge in southern Tamil Nadu state with 39 seats where the voting is being held on Friday. The BJP drew a blank in 2019 and won one seat in the 2014 elections with the region dominated by two powerful regional groups, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
Modi focussed on the state this time and visited it more than a dozen times, holding several rallies and roadshows.
P. Chidambaram, an opposition Congress party leader and the country’s former finance minister, said after voting in Tamil Nadu state that people would not vote for the BJP in the state as “It is imposing one language, one culture, one system and one kind of food.”
The voting also is taking place in the northeastern state of Manipur that was ravaged by a near-civil war for a year caused by fighting between the majority Meitei and tribal Kuki-Zo people. Mobs have rampaged through villages and torched houses.
The election authority has set up voting stations for nearly 320 relief camps where more than 59,000 men, women and children are living. The state stands divided between a valley controlled by the Meiteis and the Kuki-dominated hills.
More than 150 people were killed and over 60,000 displaced. The voting for two seats will be completed on April 26.
In the 2019 elections, the BJP and its allies had won 39 of 102 seats where the voting is taking place on Friday. These include Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and West Bengal states.
The election comes after a decade of Modi’s leadership, during which the BJP has consolidated power through a combination of Hindu-first politics and economic development.
Modi has ratcheted up Hindu nationalist rhetoric on the campaign trail, and has sought to present himself as a global leader. His ministers tout him as the steward of a surging India, while his supporters celebrate his campaign promise to make India a developed nation by 2047, when it marks 100 years of independence.
But while India’s economy is among the world’s fastest-growing, many of its people face growing economic distress. The opposition alliance is hoping to tap into this, seeking to galvanize voters on issues like high unemployment, inflation, corruption and low agricultural prices that have driven two years of farmers’ protests.
Critics warn that Modi has turned increasingly illiberal and that he could use a third term to undermine India’s democracy. His Hindu nationalist politics, they argue, has bred intolerance and threatens the country’s secular roots.
The alliance has promised to arrest the democratic slide it says India has witnessed under Modi’s rule. They accuse Modi of sidelining elected ministers in favor of trusted bureaucrats and using tax authorities and the police to harass critics and opposition parties.
“Modi has a very authoritarian mindset. He doesn’t believe in democracy. He doesn’t believe in Parliamentarianism,” said Christophe Jaffrelot, who has written about Modi and the Hindu right.
Modi insists that India’s commitment to democracy is unchanged. He told a Summit for Democracy meeting in New Delhi in March that ‘“India is not only fulfilling the aspirations of its 1.4 billion people, but is also providing hope to the world that democracy delivers and empowers.’’
The Indian leader enjoys vast popularity among India’s 1.4 billion people. His BJP dominates in Hindi-speaking northern and central parts of India, and is now trying to gain a foothold in the east and south to capture a two-thirds majority. Modi and other BJP candidates have repeatedly vowed to take at least 400 seats.
The party hopes for a landslide win powered by its popular welfare programs, which it says have improved access to clean toilets, health care and cooking gas, as well as providing free grain to the poor. Moves like the construction of a controversial temple to Ram on the site of a demolished mosque, and the scrapping of the disputed Muslim-majority region of Kashmir’s former autonomy, may resonate with supporters who hail him as the champion of the Hindu majority.
“Any party that comes back for a third term, and with a brute majority, is a scary prospect for democracy,” said Arati Jerath, a political commentator.
Modi’s two terms have seen civil liberties in India come under attack and it implementing what critics say are discriminatory policies. Peaceful protests have been crushed with force. A once free and diverse press is threatened, violence is on the rise against the Muslim minority, and government agencies have arrested opposition politicians in alleged corruption cases.
The BJP has denied its policies are discriminatory and says its work benefits all Indians.


Pope Francis to meet at G7 summit with Biden, Zelensky, Macron, Modi

Pope Francis to meet at G7 summit with Biden, Zelensky, Macron, Modi
Updated 13 June 2024
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Pope Francis to meet at G7 summit with Biden, Zelensky, Macron, Modi

Pope Francis to meet at G7 summit with Biden, Zelensky, Macron, Modi
  • Pope Francis is the first pope to participate in G7 discussions
  • Pope will have a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis will meet with the leaders of the United States, Ukraine, France and India, among others, on the sidelines of the Group of 7 (G7) summit in Italy, the Vatican said on Thursday.

Francis, who in January warned against the “perverse” dangers of artificial intelligence, is due to take part in leaders’ talks on the new technology on Friday.

He is the first pope to participate in G7 discussions.

Issuing a program for his one-day appearance, the Vatican said Francis would have a bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden, a fellow Catholic.

The Vatican said he would also have one-on-one meetings with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky, France’s Emmanuel Macron, India’s Narendra Modi, Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Turkiye’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kenya’s William Ruto,

Algeria’s Abdelmadjid Tebboune, and the head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva.

Francis and Biden met at the Vatican in 2021 and the president said the pope told him he was a “good Catholic” who can receive communion even as conservative US bishops wanted to deny it because of Biden’s support for abortion rights.

The two men also spoke in October last year about the crisis in the Middle East after Hamas’ attack on Israel.

Biden has spoken movingly of his respect for the pope, praising his empathy and calling him a “decent man.” They stay in touch, Biden has said.


Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti

Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti
Updated 13 June 2024
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Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti

Pro-Palestinian protesters take over Cal State LA building, leaving damage and graffiti
  • Pro-Palestinian demonstrators barricaded the multistory Student Services Building
  • The university posted a “protest action alert” on its website

LOS ANGELES: A takeover of a building at California State University, Los Angeles, by demonstrators protesting Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, leaving the facility trashed and covered with graffiti, TV news reports showed.
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators barricaded the multistory Student Services Building on Wednesday and workers inside were told to shelter in place, but it was empty by Thursday morning, said university spokesperson Erik Frost Hollins.
“What I can tell you, at the moment, is that the building is clear of employees and protesters and the building is secure,” said Frost Hollins, who did not immediately offer details on what occurred overnight.
The university posted a “protest action alert” on its website announcing that all main campus classes and operations would be remote until further notice and asking people to stay away.
Images from the scene showed graffiti on the building, furniture blocking doorways and overturned golf carts, picnic tables and umbrellas barricading the plaza out front.
The CSULA Gaza Solidarity Encampment, a group that has camped near the campus gym for about 40 days, sent an email indicating that members were staging a sit-in in the building, Hollins said.


Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin

Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin
Updated 13 June 2024
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Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin

Russia slowing down in Kharkiv area after lifting of arms restrictions, says Austin
  • “What I see is a slowing of the Russians’ advance and a stabilizing of that particular piece of the front,” said Austin

BRUSSELS: Russia’s advance in the Kharkiv area is slowing and the frontline is stabilizing after some allies lifted restrictions on Kyiv’s use of donated weapons on Russian territory, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Thursday.
“What I see is a slowing of the Russians’ advance and a stabilizing of that particular piece of the front. Now, I think we’ll see incremental gains — and we’ll see puts and takes — going forward,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a NATO defense ministers’ meeting in Brussels.
“But again, a couple of weeks ago, there was concern that we would see a significant breakthrough on the part of the Russians. I don’t think we’ll see that going forward.”


Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns

Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns
Updated 13 June 2024
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Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns

Unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan will affect 200,000 people, a top UN official warns
  • The UN has prepared a contingency plan, with $40 million set aside to respond to any emergencies, said Mohamed Yahya
  • The weather forecasters in Pakistan are projecting above-normal rainfall in the coming weeks

ISLAMABAD: An estimated 200,000 people in Pakistan could be affected by the upcoming monsoon season, which is expected to bring heavier rains than usual, a top UN official warned on Thursday.
The United Nations, with help from local authorities, has prepared a contingency plan, with $40 million set aside to respond to any emergencies, said Mohamed Yahya, the newly appointed Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Pakistan.
Yahya told journalists in Islamabad that the weather forecasters in Pakistan are projecting above-normal rainfall in the coming weeks. However, the rains would not be as heavy as in 2022 when devastating floods killed 1,739 people, destroyed 2 million homes, and covered as much as one-third of the country at one point.
Pakistan is one of the countries in the world most vulnerable to climate change, in part because of its immense northern glaciers, which are now melting as air temperatures rise. Warmer air can also hold more moisture, intensifying the rains of the monsoon.
Until recently, public opinion and even some government officials took little account of the possible negative impact from climate change on daily life. Pakistan’s weather patterns have changed in recent years, forcing cities to strengthen their infrastructure and farmers to adapt their practices.
The 2022 floods caused more than $30 billion in damage to Pakistan’s already cash-strapped economy.
Analysts and government officials say Pakistan in recent years failed to achieve goals for economic growth because of man-made disasters, which have repeatedly hit the country in the form of droughts, heatwaves and heavy rains, which badly damaged the road network, bridges, power system and other infrastructure.
Pakistan says despite contributing less than 1 percent to carbon emissions worldwide, it is bearing the brunt of global climate disasters. This year, Pakistan recorded its wettest April since 1961, with more than double the usual monthly rainfall.
Yahya said he was in contact with officials at Pakistan’s ministry of climate change, who were preparing their contingency own plans for monsoon season, which in Pakistan runs from July to October.
Earlier this week, weather forecasters in Pakistan urged people to stay indoors as the third heatwave in a month began. A recent study by the United Nations children’s agency said that Pakistan could avert 175,000 deaths by 2030 by developing resilient energy systems to power its health facilities.
On Thursday, temperatures in various parts of Pakistan soared as high as 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit), forcing many people to stay indoors. Authorities are asking people to hydrate and avoid unnecessary travel.


UK Labour leader Keir Starmer says he’ll end the era of ‘gestures and gimmicks’ if he wins power

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer says he’ll end the era of ‘gestures and gimmicks’ if he wins power
Updated 13 June 2024
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UK Labour leader Keir Starmer says he’ll end the era of ‘gestures and gimmicks’ if he wins power

UK Labour leader Keir Starmer says he’ll end the era of ‘gestures and gimmicks’ if he wins power
  • Starmer said a Labour government would “stop the chaos, turn the page and start to rebuild our country”

MANCHESTER: The left-of-center politician aiming to become Britain’s prime minister in three weeks’ time said Thursday he will lead a government that’s both “pro-business and pro-worker” and restore stability after years of economic and political turmoil.
Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said that if he’s elected on July 4, he will end the “desperate era of gestures and gimmicks” of the Conservative Party’s turbulent tenure.
Launching Labour’s election manifesto in the northwest England city of Manchester, Starmer said a Labour government would “stop the chaos, turn the page and start to rebuild our country.”
Next month British voters will elect lawmakers to fill all 650 seats in the House of Commons, and the leader of the party that can command a majority — either alone or in coalition — will become prime minister. Labour currently has a double-digit lead in opinion polls over Prime Minister Rishi Sunak ‘s governing Conservatives, who have been in power for 14 years under five different prime ministers.
The Conservatives jettisoned two prime ministers without an election in quick succession in 2022: first Boris Johnson, felled by scandals, then Liz Truss, who rocked the economy with drastic tax-slashing plans and lasted just seven weeks in office.
Starmer, a former chief prosecutor who is widely seen as competent but dull, is trying to turn his stolid image into an asset. His core message is that he has transformed Labour from its high-taxing, big-spending days under former leader Jeremy Corbyn into a party of the stable center.
Starmer said his platform was “a manifesto for wealth creation,” and acknowledged that a Labour government would face “hard choices” about public spending.
“We cannot play fast and loose with the public finances,” he said. He said he rejected the idea that “the only levers are tax and spend,” and would get the economy expanding after years of sluggish growth.
Starmer’s cautious economic approach dismays some in his party, who want bolder change, but has won the support of many business leaders.
Starmer called the party’s platform a manifesto for “wealth creation,” and its ambitious goals were largely long-term ones: establishing a new industrial policy, developing a 10-year infrastructure strategy, building 1.5 million new homes.
Labour pledged to improve ties with Britain’s former partners in the European Union, but ruled out a return to the bloc’s frictionless single market and customs union.
The plan’s spending commitments were modest. The manifesto forecasts that taxes will rise by 7.4 billion pounds ($9.25 billion) by 2028-29, through measures including a windfall tax on energy companies.
Starmer said personal taxes would not rise under a Labour government, but that did not stop the Conservatives casting Labour as the high-tax party.
“If you think they’ll win, start saving,” Sunak wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
Starmer spoke at the headquarters of the Co-op, a Manchester-founded cooperative society that has grown into a large retail and services empire. He introduced several voters, including a father whose family of four live in a one-bedroom apartment, and Nathaniel Dye, a man with terminal cancer campaigning for faster treatment.
The only unscripted moment came from a demonstrator calling for Labour to have tougher climate change policies, who was swiftly removed.
Sunak released the Conservative manifesto — the party’s key handbook of promises — on Tuesday, pledging to cut taxes and reduce immigration if the Conservative Party is reelected.
Labour’s 131-page manifesto included previously announced plans, with little in the way of last-minute treats to woo voters.
“It’s not about rabbits out of a hat, it’s not about pantomime,” Starmer said. “I’m running as a candidate to be prime minister, not a candidate to run the circus.”