Braving the searing heat of April and death threats by Maoist and Islamist terrorists, tens of millions of voters across India cast their votes on Thursday in the general elections regarded as the world’s largest democratic exercise.
Voter turnout was heavy in Shyamagiri hills of Dantewada region in the central state of Chhattisgarh where a BJP legislator and four security personnel were killed by Maoist terrorists in an ambush on Tuesday.
In Jammu in north, the turnout was 67.39 per cent. This after a senior member of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organisation) linked to BJP and his security guard were killed in a terrorist attack at a health centre in Kishtwar, a town in Jammu.
Voters of Shyamagiri and Jammu region gave a clear message that ballots have won over bullets and people cannot be cowed down by threats.
A Kashmiri voter reflected the mood of the nation by temporarily leaving the long queue at a polling station in Bandipura and breaking into a dance with gay abandon. The young man was celebrating the election.
The dancer’s twists and turns and the smile on his face brought cheers to other voters who captured the act on their mobile phones.
The scuffle at a polling station in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh could have been avoided. It is shameful that the fight was started by a lawmaker and candidate, Madhusudhan Gupta, of Jana Sena (People’s Army) Party.
Upset over the illegible list of candidates and constituencies, Gupta smashed the electronic voting machine at the polling station leading to suspension of voting for an hour.
The motto of Gupta’s party is ‘fight for the rights of common man’. But the ugly scene he created at Guntakal polling station shows he has no concern for the common man.
The first phase of elections involving 91 parliamentary seats in 20 states still passed off peacefully.
The final phase of polling is on May 19 and the counting of votes will take place on May 23.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking a second term in office by highlighting the efforts made during its rule to curb corruption and terrorism, boost inclusive growth, simplify the tax code, safeguard national security and promote agriculture and renewable sources of energy.
The opposition led by regional parties and Congress is hoping to defeat the BJP by raising the Modi government’s ‘controversial’ Rafale fighter jets deal and ‘failures’ to create jobs for one million youth each month, bring peace in Jammu and Kashmir and tackle Maoist violence elsewhere.
They accuse the Modi government of imposing a Hindu agenda and encouraging attacks on Muslims and Dalits.
Modi, 68, does not seem worried by such accusations while criss-crossing the country to lead election campaigns. His popularity ratings have jumped after the airstrikes by the Indian Air Force on terror camps in Balakot following the Pulwama terror attack by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad group.
The opposition, blinded by hatred for Modi, blundered by questioning the airstrike and demanding proof of the casualties.
Frustrating them further, the India Air Force said the airstrikes would have been easier had they been in possession of Rafale jets the Opposition was making such a fuss over.
At the moment, voters seem to be applauding the Modi government for the Balakot pre-emptive strike and ignoring some of the promises it failed to fulfil.
But the situation may change if a court ruling or any revelation or incident shows the saffron party in poor light. Congress is hell-bent on levelling charges against BJP.
On Thursday, the party alerted the ministry of home affairs after a video showed a green laser beam pointed at its president Rahul Gandhi’s head in Amethi. They feared it could have been from a sniper gun.
The home ministry said there was no security threat to Rahul and the green laser light on the video came from a camera.
As campaigns hot up in the coming phases, each political party will be waiting for an opportunity to tilt the balance in its favour.