Indians vote in final phase of poll amid searing heat

Adnan Abidi and Subrata Nag Choudhury |

Indians are voting in the final of seven phases of a national election – the world’s largest poll.
Indians are voting in the final of seven phases of a national election – the world’s largest poll.

Indians are voting in searing summer heat in the final phase of the world’s biggest election, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks a rare third term in a poll focused on inequality and religion.

More than 100 million people are registered to vote for 57 seats across eight states and federal territories in the seventh phase of the election on Saturday, including in Modi’s constituency in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi.

“Calling upon the voters to turn out in large numbers and vote,” Modi said as polls opened in the northern state of Punjab and the eastern states of Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha.

Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), battling an opposition alliance of two dozen parties led by Rahul Gandhi’s Congress, is widely expected to keep its majority in the election with more than one billion registered voters.

But the BJP has run into a spirited campaign by the opposition INDIA alliance, sowing some doubt about how close the race might be.

Public exit polls, banned during the six weeks of voting, are expected to be released after voting ends at 6.30pm (1300 GMT) on Saturday, although they have a patchy record and have sometimes been widely off the mark.

Election results are to be announced on Tuesday.

Scorching summer temperatures with unusually severe heatwaves have compounded voter fatigue, with at least 33 people killed by suspected heatstroke, including almost two dozen election officials.

Temperatures reached 48C in many voting areas on Saturday.

Unemployment and inflation are the main concerns for voters in the majority-Hindu country of 1.4 billion people.

“We have been enduring a prolonged poll schedule,” said Sanant Basu, a resident of West Bengal’s capital Kolkata, as sporadic violence marred voting in at least two seats.

Woman being sprayed with water in India
Scorching temperatures and unusually intense heatwaves have compounded voter fatigue in India. (AP PHOTO)

“I pray that it comes to a peaceful end today.”

People queued early outside polling stations in parts of Punjab state, where farmers have been protesting for minimum price guarantees for their crops.

Sarabjeet Kaur, 51, said she was dismayed by all the mainstream parties.

“No party is bothered about us until elections arrive every five years,” she said.

Harpreet Singh, 32, from Punjab’s Firozpur said “BJP will not be successful here”.

“It’s bye-bye to Modi this time – Congress will be winning,” he said.

Modi began his re-election campaign by focusing on his achievements of the past 10 years but soon switched to mostly targeting the Congress by accusing it of favouring India’s minority Muslims, which the party denies.

The opposition has largely campaigned on affirmative action and saving the constitution from what they call Modi’s dictatorial rule, an allegation the BJP denies.