US repatriates two dozen Westerners from Syria Daesh camp

US repatriates two dozen Westerners from Syria Daesh camp
US repatriates two dozen Westerners from Syria Daesh camp

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his chief opponent Rahul Gandhi called on voters to cast their ballots on Tuesday, as India’s massive general election reached its halfway mark with a turnout lower than expected.

More than 968 million people have been registered to vote and the polls are held in seven phases from April 19 until June 1. Some of India’s 28 states and eight federally governed territories complete the process on a single day, while others spread it out.

The first two phases of the election were held on April 19 and April 26 in 190 constituencies, with a voter turnout of 66.1 percent and 66.7 percent respectively — about 4 percent lower than in 2019.

In the third phase on Tuesday, citizens from 94 constituencies in 12 states went to the polls, including in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.

“Urging all those who are voting in today’s phase to vote in record numbers. Their active participation will certainly make the elections more vibrant,” the incumbent prime minister said on X after casting his ballot.

Modi is eyeing a rare third straight five-year term in power, targeting 400 seats for the National Democratic Alliance led by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power since 2014.

He is challenged by an alliance of two dozen opposition parties — the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, or INDIA, led by the Congress Party, which has ruled the country for close to 45 years since its independence in 1947.

Gandhi, Modi’s key contender and Congress leader, is the son of Rajiv Gandhi, a grandson of Indira Gandhi, and a great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru — all of whom had served as prime ministers of India.

Congress plunged to a historic low when it was swept out of power by the BJP in the 2014 election, and won its second-lowest number of 52 seats in 2019.

As the turnout showed a declining trend in the first and second phases of the ongoing poll, Gandhi also took to social media to ask voters to show up.

“I request all of you to come out in large numbers and vote to protect your rights,” he said. “Remember, this is not an ordinary election, it is an election to protect the democracy and constitution of the country.”

More than 498 million people were eligible to vote in the first three phases, or 60 percent of all registered voters. The total number of parliamentary seats up for grabs is 283 out of 543.

The party or coalition that wins at least 272 seats will form the government.

Although surveys suggest Modi will win a majority in parliament easily, analysts say a repeat of his landslide victories in 2014 and 2019 is unlikely.

“I think the election has not gone very satisfactorily for the ruling party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The results may be well below their expectations,” said Anand K. Sahay, a columnist and commentator based in Delhi.

“My own broad sense is that the government is in the doldrums.”

He said Modi was repeating his previous strategy of mobilizing voters through majoritarian Hindu sentiment, omitting the voters’ main concerns, which pre-poll surveys have identified as unemployment and inflation.

“The prime minister of India is holding on to one single narrative, that is ranting against the Muslims of India. A man who regards himself as a very successful prime minister for 10 consecutive years is not talking about issues and the records of the governance. There is a deafening silence on that front,” Sahay told Arab News.

Apoorvanand Jha, a public intellectual and professor at the University of Delhi, said voters were now “weary” of the rhetoric propagated by the BJP, but it was not clear whether that would result in a regime change.

“What people have realized now is that it is only political rhetoric and, actually, there is no governance, so that has created a feeling of unease even in the supporters of this regime,” he said.

“One does not know whether that will lead to a major change or not. But this is a major shift. The myth of the invincibility of Narendra Modi is broken and the myth of the popularity of Narendra Modi is also something that people have started questioning.”

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