UK & World News

  • 7 April 2014, 9:27

India: World's Biggest Elections Get Underway

It will be the biggest elections in the world. More than 814 million people will cast their vote from Monday in nine phases, stretched over the period of one month.

The present Congress party leads a coalition government and has been in power for the last 10 years.

It is now led by 43-year-old Rahul Gandhi; a fourth generation politician from the first family of Indian politics.

His great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the first Prime Minister of free India; his grandmother and his father also held this high office.

Rahul has a very difficult task ahead as the mood in the country has changed against the Congress party.

The decade-old government of Dr Manmohan Singh is reeling under economic slowdown.

Growth, which had almost touched double digits, is now half. Inflation and unemployment are on the rise. 

But what plagues the government most is the enormous corruption scandals that have tumbled out over the last few years.

Though the party has enacted a number of welfare programmes and claims to have lifted 140 million people out of poverty, it faces an uphill task.

Shahid Siddiqui, a former parliamentarian and now political analyst, told Sky News: "The Congress party is in a state of confusion.

"They are an old party and their new leadership is emerging which aspires to the future but they are unable to break away from the past.

"And they are not bold enough to go for a new kind of politics, so as a result they are hanging in between."

The challenger is 63-year-old Narendra Modi, the Prime ministerial candidate of the right wing Bharitya Janta Party (BJP).

Modi is a four-time chief minister of the developed state of Gujarat.

A firebrand politician, he is seen by many as a polarising figure.

It was under his watch that communal riots took place in Gujarat in 2002. More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed and many were rendered homeless.

Though he has not been indicted by any court and investigations have cleared him of any involvement in the riots, his role is still furiously debated.

Shahid Siddiqui says: "People feel quite threatened.

"I interviewed him and asked him if he takes moral responsibility for the massacre of 2002 and he refused to take moral responsibility and that is one question that is a baggage which he is carrying."

Modi was denied a visa by the US while Britain refused to deal with him for a decade until October 2012 when this boycott was lifted.

Since the start of his campaign, Modi has stayed away from any religious language and talks only about development and invigorating the flagging Indian economy.

Since the 1990s, no single party has won a majority vote in the country.

This time, all the indications are that there will be a coalition in which regional parties will play a pivotal role in the formation of the new government once the results are declared on May 16.

For the moment all indications show Modi is just ahead.