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India’s Modi poised for victory as 6-week general election begins in world’s largest democracy

– Close to 970 million Indians start voting today as India holds its general election with polls suggesting that incumbent Prime Minister, Narendra Modi will win a third term in the world’s largest democracy.

‘Many Indians view Modi as a ‘strongman figure’. None of the opposition parties can field a candidate with equal charisma. Also, they have no coherent strategy or platform except that they are ‘anti-Modi,” 25-year-old Anandh Nair from Thiruvananthapuram in the state of Kerala recently told Fox News Digital.

Modi first became prime minister in 2014. He was then re-elected for a second term in 2019.

Nair, a student, said that ‘During Modi’s two terms, we actually saw the standard of living rise, especially for the middle class. Another thing was, previous leaders had been ‘wishy-washy’ about supporting our Hindu identity, almost as if they were ashamed of it. But for the BJP, there was no doubt that they showed pride. For most Indians, religion is an important part of everyday life.’

While Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has not yet succeeded in making inroads in some parts of the country, the main opposition Indian National Congress Party has dwindled in terms of the number of states it now holds, despite its previous dominance in Indian politics. Regardless, Modi has campaigned in the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala recently in what many viewed as a daring step, given that the party has not fared well there.

Gurdas Rao, a tour guide from Mumbai, told Fox News Digital that, ‘Modi is popular among both the rich and poor. All of us have seen the quality-of-life skyrocket, so why won’t we vote for him again?’.

India’s economic success in the face of the economic crisis following the COVID-19 pandemic was most notable when regional neighbors, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, faced major challenges as they ran out of foreign reserves. In contrast, India stayed relatively unscathed. This culminated when India came to Sri Lanka’s rescue, providing much needed fuel resources during its economic crisis in 2022. Both the IMF and the World Bank also estimated that India was the fastest growing economy in 2023.

A significant event was when the 73-year-old Modi attended the groundbreaking opening of the Ram Mandhir, a new temple in Ayodhya and described this as fulfilling ‘dreams that many generations have cherished for years’. This was at the holy site believed by Hindus to be the birthplace of the legendary King Rama.

It opened, despite much controversy surrounding the temple being built on top of a razed mosque, leaving the nation divided along religious lines. Many among the Hindu majority showed positive responses, while religious minorities seemed less satisfied.

Prince Samuels, a Christian from Goa, told Fox News Digital that ‘India is a very diverse country: we have churches, mosques and temples; all on the same street. The BJP is catering to the Hindu majority and not incorporating our religious and culture diversity into their vision of a ‘united India’. They blatantly favor one community over the others.’

Siddhartha Dubey, a professor of journalism based in Evanston, Illinois, said ‘I think the Indian diaspora, which is largely Hindu, is keen to see India growing economically and strengthening ties with their adopted countries. Both of these are currently happening. However, generally speaking, they do not seem too bothered in the whittling down of democracy and institutions within India, and it seems that many are happy to support Mr. Modi.’

He cautioned that a third Modi term will see the ‘doubling down against the rights of minorities and civil society’. However, in terms of foreign relations, he said that ‘U.S.-India relations are agnostic of whoever gets elected as U.S. president this year.’

Dubey added, ‘India’s economy will grow and if you see the projections from big American companies, India is a key place for investment.’

Former University of Delhi, Indian history professor Preeti Singh told Fox News Digital that, ‘Modi’s support in India transcends the differences in income levels, social categories and caste divisions. His background as a chai walla (tea vendor) has been likened to a common man much like a majority of Indians, and his rise to the top position in India personifies the aspirations of the working classes and all other Indians.’

‘His promise and delivery of clean politics, corruption-free government and improved infrastructure have increased his popularity cutting across all classes and categories of society.’

Strong foreign relations have been a cornerstone of Modi’s tenure as prime minister. He has undertaken many foreign visits across the globe. Modi has also notably maintained ties with major world powers that rival one another. Singh explained, ‘Modi is clearly sticking to ‘neutrality’. He wants to make it clear that India is trying to break the shackles by conveying that major players such as the U.S. and Russia have their independent value in terms of Indian foreign policy.’

Likewise, Modi has also maintained relationships with Israel and Iran. In contrast, India’s biggest political rivals historically continue to be Pakistan and China.

Singh also noted how India’s role during the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict was ‘rooted in strategic neutrality, while also condemning civilian killings that had taken place.’

Rumela Sen, political science lecturer at Columbia University, expressed concern as to the BJP government’s ‘rewriting Indian history’ to fit a Hindu nationalist narrative as ‘a battle for the soul of India’. She cited ‘textbook revisionism on caste’ and the ‘‘sanitization’ of independence hero Gandhi’s killer'(Nathuram Godse) as examples.

She said that the BJP’s actions ‘undermine several institutions and rights that were hallmarks of Indian democracy.’

‘We almost do not notice the centralization of power in the hands of the executive, midnight arrests and legal harassment of opposition and critics and erosion of free press.’

When asked about concerns of eroding democracy and a crackdown on the opposition in India, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told journalists on Monday that, ‘India is the world’s largest democracy, it is an important strategic partner of the United States, and I expect that to remain true.’

Despite criticism, Narendra Modi has so far proven that his support-base is solidly rooted in both the domestic and foreign fronts. Also, coupled with a weak opposition and poll results, all indicators suggest that Modi will most probably be re-elected for a third term.

Results of the 44-day-long process will be known on June 4.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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