India Elections Begin On April 11. They’re A Crucial Test For Modi.
NEW DELHI — General elections in India will begin on April 11, officials announced on Sunday, with some 900 million voters eligible to cast ballots to fill parliamentary seats and choose the next prime minister in the world’s largest democracy.
The elections, which will be held during a period of heightened nationalism in India, are a crucial test for the governing center-right Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P., and for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is running for a second five-year term.
Many analysts say that Mr. Modi’s image — recently dented by slowing economic growth and allegations that the governing party had suppressed a report showing a 45-year high in unemployment — has recovered since a military confrontation between India and Pakistan, and has perhaps even strengthened ahead of the vote.
Amid growing fears worldwide about the power of social media to manipulate voters, India’s election commission said it would closely monitor platforms like Facebook.
The chief election commissioner, Sunil Arora, said voting would be held in seven stages, staggered across the country, before polls closed on May 19. Ballot counting will begin on May 23 and is expected to be completed in a day.
Voters will effectively choose India’s next leader by filling more than 500 seats in the lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha.
Next month’s elections are largely a contest between the B.J.P. and the Indian National Congress, the party of Mohandas K. Gandhi, which has led India for most of the country’s post-independence history. The vote will be the B.J.P.’s to lose, analysts said.
In the aftermath of the recent military confrontation between India and Pakistan, Mr. Modi has tapped into an intense nationalist current running through the country.
Last month, a suicide bombing in the disputed region of Kashmir killed more than 40 Indian troops — the worst attack there in 30 years. The bomber is believed to have belonged to the militant group Army of Muhammad, or Jaish-e-Muhammad, which is active in Pakistan despite being banned by the government there.
In response to the attack, Indian warplanes crossed into Pakistani airspace to strike what Indian officials said was a training camp for the militants. The aerial incursion was the first time Indian aircraft had crossed into Pakistan in decades.
The tensions escalated into an aerial dogfight that ended when a Pakistani jet shot down an Indian warplane and Pakistan’s military captured the pilot. In a “good-will gesture,” Pakistan handed over the Indian pilot this month, defusing tensions.
In the 2014 general elections, the B.J.P. picked up more than 280 seats in the Lok Sabha and wrested a majority from a coalition led by the Indian National Congress. More than 500 million people voted in that election.