03/11/2019, 15.04
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As the dates for the general election are set, 900 million get ready to vote

Voting will take place in seven phases in April and May. Vote counting will start on 23 May. The Hindu nationalist BJP is seeking a second term. Left-of-centre Congress is trying to avoid another big defeat. Minority representatives meet BJP minister.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – India's general election will take place in seven phases in April and May, the Election Commission announced.

With 900 million eligible voters (out of a population of 1.3 billion), India's election will be the largest the world has seen.

The ruling party met with representatives of minority communities, including a delegation from the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI). The latter re-asserted the right to freely profess one’s beliefs.

Voting will take place on 11 April, 18 April, 23 April, 29 April, 6 May, 12 May and 19 May, with counting to start on 23 May.

Eligible voters over 18 will elect the 17th lower House of Parliament (Lok Sabha) as well as some State Assemblies (Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa and Sikkim). The Lok Sabha has 543 seats; to form a government, a party or coalition needs a minimum of 272 MPs.

The election is the most important political event of the year, which experts see as a referendum on incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The latter is hoping to repeat the success of 2014, when his party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won alone 282 seats, the first time since 1984 for a party to win an absolute majority in a general election.

His main challenge comes from the Indian National Congress led by the Nehru-Gandhi family. Rahul Gandhi, the son of Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi, grandson of Indira Gandhi and great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru (India’s first post-independence prime minister).

The young Gandhi hopes to put behind his party’s terrible performance in 2014, when it suffered its worst defeat ever, winning only 44 seats, down from 206.

Rahul’s younger charismatic sibling, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, has also jumped into the political arena, breathing new life into the party. For many, she is the true heir to the dynasty.

Currently, she is serving as general secretary of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in charge of eastern Uttar Pradesh, a strategic choice since the state is the most populous in the country (home to one Indian in six or 204 million) with the most seats, 80. In 2014 the BJP won 71.

Youth unemployment, poor farmers, inclusion of women, respect for religious minorities are among the issues that are expected to dominate the campaign.

Against this backdrop, a meeting was held last Thursday at the Ambedkar International Centre in New Delhi with the participation of Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (pictures 2 and 3).

Representatives of religious minorities (Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and Parsees) asked to be included in the ruling party’s manifesto (Sankalp Patra).

The Christian delegation, led by Fr Joseph Manipadam, secretary of the CBCI Office for Education and Culture, presented a list of concerns, ranging from enhanced security for minorities and promotion of their rights to respect for the country’s secular, multi-cultural and multi-religious nature.

The demands include also the right to profess and spread one’s beliefs, respect for the opinions of others, protection from mass lynching and a stop to discrimination on the basis of religious and dietary practices.

According to the bishops, the next government must guarantee everyone "a hunger free society, poverty alleviation, protection of farmers, promotion of agriculture and care of the rural areas”

In addition, the bishops would like to see respect for the religious celebrations of each community, school autonomy with decentralised control and an end to the saffronisation of education (i.e. Hindu-oriented view of history).

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