India to hold the world’s largest election from April 19th

Polls forecast comfortable victory for prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP

India will vote in a new parliament in seven phases between April 19th and June 1st, in what will be the world’s largest election exercise, potentially involving some 968 million eligible voters.

Announcing the poll schedule on Saturday, chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar told reporters in New Delhi that votes for the 543-member Lok Sabha or directly-elected people’s lower house of parliament, would be tallied on June 4th.

Officials said the primary reason behind the staggered voting, spread across 43 days, was to facilitate the timely deployment of security personnel to enforce order at polling stations and to prevent any electoral rigging, which was widespread in the 1970s and 1980s.

Numerous polls, meanwhile, forecast a “comfortable” and record third consecutive five-year term for prime minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the elections, as the alliance of some 26 opposition parties ranged against it, remained disunited.


Political commentator Arati Jerath said the opposition’s Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance or INDIA coalition was in “disarray and not at all cohesive”. Other analysts concurred, stating that the INDIA grouping, formed last July, had so far been unable to project an “alternative narrative” to credibly challenge either Mr Modi’s decisive leadership or the BJP’s cadre-based organisation and agenda.

In recent weeks, Mr Modi said the BJP would win 370 seats, and an aggregate of more than 400 for the 38-party National Democratic Alliance (NDA) it heads. This projected number was significantly higher than the 353 MPs that the NDA sent to parliament (303 of them BJP) in 2019.

Any political party or coalition needs 272 MPs to form government in India.

“I have full confidence that [the BJP] will get the blessings of over 960 million voters for the third time,” Mr Modi posted on X over the weekend, adding that his party would campaign on its track record of “good governance and public service” over its two back-to-back terms since 2014.

In recent weeks Mr Modi has stressed his electoral clarion call of “Modi’s guarantee” that promises to economically empower India’s youth, women, farmers and the socially marginalised.

Critics, however, accuse the him of focusing politically on India’s majority Hindu community, which comprises about 80 per cent of its population of 1.4 billion people, and of persecuting and intimidating some 200 million Muslims, about 16 per cent of the population.

In January, Mr Modi inaugurated a glittering temple dedicated to the Hindu God Ram in the small northern town of Ayodhya. It was built on the site of a 16th-century mosque, whose demolition 32 years ago by Hindu zealots triggered countrywide sectarian rioting in which more than 2,000 people died. Millions of Indians are Ram devotees and many believe the temple investiture ceremony to be Hinduism’s “true awakening”, following centuries of Muslim rule.

Mr Modi has also been criticised for consolidating executive power in the prime minister’s office, muzzling critical media, eroding judicial and parliamentary independence and “freely employing” state investigative agencies to indict and prosecute his detractors on questionable grounds.

In the meantime, the Election Commission of India, responsible for conducting the polls, will deploy about 15 million officials countrywide to oversee 1.05 million voting booths that will house 5.5 million electronic voting machines. And, for the first time, the commission has announced provisions to enable voters aged 85 years and above to cast their ballots from home.

Election analyst Bhaskara Rao of the Centre for Media studies estimates political parties would spend upwards of Rs1.2 trillion (€13.21 billion) on electoral campaigning, twice the amount they spent on the 2019 parliamentary polls. This is many times more than the modest expenditure limits stipulated by the commission for all parliamentary candidates.

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi

Rahul Bedi is a contributor to The Irish Times based in New Delhi