India poised for mammoth vote, Hindu nationalists strong

Apr 06 2014, 00:44 IST
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SummaryThe biggest election the world has ever seen begins on Monday in a remote backwater of tea gardens and rice paddies...

were until recently poor but now can afford consumer goods. Even the poorest people, those below that group, want some of that," said Vaishnav, an India expert.

While Modi has cut red tape and overseen a period of high growth in Gujarat, details of his policy plans, or "Modinomics", on the national scale remain sketchy. The BJP is due to release its delayed manifesto after voting starts on Monday.

The BJP and its allies are forecast to win the biggest chunk of the 543 parliamentary seats up for grabs but fall up to 38 seats short of a majority, according to an opinion poll released this week by CSDS, a respected Indian polling group.

The debate in New Delhi is focused on whether Modi can secure a stable-enough coalition to push through his agenda.

However, Indian elections are notoriously hard to call. Opinion polls in 2004 incorrectly predicted victory for a BJP-led alliance campaigning on its economic record. The centre-left Congress instead swept to power to expand welfare schemes.

Congress, now dogged by public anger over the economic slowdown and corruption after a decade in power, is forecast to get around half of the BJP's tally. The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty has in recent months lost much of its traditional ability to rouse voters, with many unimpressed by its scion Rahul Gandhi.

TOUGH JOB

India's next prime minister will face a tough job reviving an economy plagued by high inflation and a wide fiscal deficit. Other challenges include defining India's role in a tense neighbourhood marked by border disputes with Pakistan and China.

The three countries are jockeying for position in Afghanistan, which held elections on Saturday, as Western troops withdraw from the war-battered nation.

Critics say Modi represents only India's Hindu majority and failed to stop or even allowed communal riots in 2002 in Gujarat, in which at least 1,000 people died, most of them Muslims. He has always denied the accusations and a Supreme Court inquiry found no evidence to prosecute him.

"India's uniqueness is its unity amongst diversity," Paban Singh Ghatowar, the Congress candidate for the constituency that contains Lezai village and a junior cabinet minister, told Reuters. " represents one line of thinking. He does not represent the diversity of India."

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