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20 May, 2024 12:44

Fate of Modi’s biggest rival to be decided in fifth phase of Indian election

Key constituencies, including that of opposition leader Rahul Gandhi, are voting on Monday
Fate of Modi’s biggest rival to be decided in fifth phase of Indian election

The fate of Rahul Gandhi, India’s main opposition leader who is challenging incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is being decided today as Indians vote in the fifth of seven parliamentary election phases.

Gandhi, 53, is seeking election in Raebareli, Uttar Pradesh, which is a stronghold of his National Congress party. His mother, former party leader Sonia Gandhi, previously represented the constituency.

She was married to the late Rajiv Gandhi, the son of assassinated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, and served as the president of the country’s oldest party between 1998 and 2017.

Sonia Gandhi, who represented the family stronghold for four consecutive five-year terms, told a rally last week that she was handing her son over to the people. “Please treat him as one of your own,” she said. “He will not disappoint you.”

Rahul Gandhi is also running in Wayanad in southern India’s Kerala state, where voting was held on April 26 during the second phase of the election.

Other high-profile politicians contesting the fifth phase of the election include cabinet ministers from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Smriti Irani and Rajnath Singh. Irani, who has been minister of women and child development since 2019, as well as minister of minority affairs, will seek re-election in the constituency of Amethi. 

Singh, who is currently the defense minister, is hoping to be re-elected as an MP for Lucknow. Both constituencies are in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state and traditionally an electoral fortress of the BJP.

In 2019, Irani upset the odds by defeating Rahul Gandhi, who had been elected in Amethi on three occasions. The constituency was previously seen as a key stronghold for the Congress party in the state. 

The fifth phase of voting will see 49 parliamentary seats filled in six states and two union territories. An estimated turnout of 23.66% was recorded during the first four hours of polling. Meanwhile, scattered incidents of violence have been reported in eastern India’s West Bengal state, where voting is being held in seven constituencies. According to news agency PTI, clashes erupted between the supporters of the BJP and regional party, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), in the Barrackpore, Bongaon, and Arambagh areas.

On Monday morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called on voters, especially women and young people, to exercise their right to vote “in record numbers.”  

Rahul Gandhi issued a similar message on X (formerly Twitter). He claimed that India, “bored with the politics of hatred, is now voting on its issues.” The Gandhi-led Congress has vowed to roll back several key policies implemented by the Modi-led BJP if voted to power.

Around 970 million Indians are eligible to vote in the election, which has been touted as the largest exercise of democracy in history. There are 545 seats in the lower house of the country’s parliament. Opinion polls have shown that the National Democratic Alliance, which is led by the BJP, is most likely to attain a majority. The INDIA bloc, a coalition of 41 parties led by the Congress, is seen as the biggest challenger.

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