Brisk polling in second phase of Indian election

Indian women line up to cast their votes at a polling station during the second phase of the mammoth Indian elections in Patidarang village, some 60km from Guwahati, the capital city of India’s state of Assam, on April 18, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 April 2019

Brisk polling in second phase of Indian election

  • Around 900 million Indians are registered to vote for candidates to fill 543 seats in the country’s lower house of Parliament
  • The first phase of the election began on April 11

NEW DELHI: There was brisk polling Thursday in the second phase of the Indian election, with people in 13 states casting their votes.

Around 900 million Indians are registered to vote for candidates to fill 543 seats in the country’s lower house of Parliament.

The national election, the world’s largest democratic exercise, is seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The first phase of the election began on April 11. The second saw voting in 97 parliamentary constituencies and was spread out from the north to the south of the country.

The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has a history of voting overwhelmingly in favor of one party, with that party playing a crucial role in the formation of a government in New Delhi.

In 2014, the regional All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhgam (AIADMK) party won 37 seats and helped the BJP to a two-thirds majority.

“The BJP is banking on AIADMK to repeat the 2014 performance but this time it’s not easy,” said N. Sathiya Moorthy, from the Observer Research Foundation.

“The BJP has been very desperate to seal a strong alliance in Tamil Nadu. It knows that it’s not possible for them to get the same number of seats from north India this time. Therefore, Tamil Nadu becomes crucial in forming the government in Delhi,” he said. 

“But this time it’s not going to be easy for the BJP in Tamil Nadu. Opinion polls favor a sweep by the opposition Congress party-led alliance,” he told Arab News.

The BJP, on the other hand, was confident and predicted its allies were poised for a landslide win.

“We are 100 percent sure that we will form the government,” said Sudesh Verma, national BJP spokesman.

“We will not only retain seats in Tamil Nadu but also improve our performances in other states. There is an undercurrent in the name of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

In Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, there was low voter turnout amid high security.

News agency AFP reported that authorities had deployed tens of thousands of security forces in the state, with troops, paramilitaries and police flooding Srinagar.

Kashmir leapt to the forefront of Modi’s campaign after a February suicide bomb attack killed 40 paramilitaries and brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

“The government thought that by arresting separatist leaders and civil society activists people will come out to vote,” Prof. Sheikh Showkat Hussain of Central University of Kashmir, told Arab News. “But the reverse has happened today. The boycott of the election is more intense today than before. The election should be an eye- opener for the government, that you cannot put people of Kashmir into submission. By using brute force, democracy in the valley has become stigmatized.”

The election is taking place in seven phases and voting concludes on May 19. Counting takes place on May 23.

New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope

Updated 31 min 56 sec ago

New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope

  • The election of Lori Lightfoot as mayor gives Chicago’s Arabs an opportunity to reverse the damage that Rahm Emanuel has caused
  • Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained against

Plagued by ongoing controversies and criticism that he tried to hide a video of Chicago police killing a black teenager in October 2014, Rahm Emanuel decided he had had enough as the city’s mayor and decided to retire.

Elected in 2011 with a big boost from his former boss, US President Barack Obama — also a Chicago native — Emanuel served two full terms.

But his hopes of reversing the city’s tumbling finances, improving its poorly performing schools, and reversing record gun-related violence and killings, all failed.

However, Emanuel did have one success. He managed to gut the involvement of Chicago’s Arab-American minority in city-sponsored events, responding favorably to its influential Jewish-American community leadership, which complained about Palestinian activists who advocated for statehood and challenged Israeli oppression.

Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained included photographs of Palestinians protesting against Israel. The festival had only been launched four years earlier by his predecessor in 2007.

Emanuel also disbanded the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs, and ended Arab American Heritage Month, which had been held every November since it was recognized by Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor.

Emanuel refused to discuss his reasons for these decisions with leaders of Chicago’s Arab community.

He declined repeated requests by me to interview him, despite my having interviewed seven Chicago mayors. He declined similar requests from other Arab journalists.

While he hosted iftars for Muslims, he never hosted an Arab heritage celebration during his eight years in office.

His father was a leader of the Irgun, which was denounced as a terrorist organization in the 1940s by the British military.

The Irgun murdered British soldiers and thousands of Palestinian civilians, and orchestrated the bloody Deir Yassin massacre on April 9, 1948.

Before becoming mayor, Emanuel volunteered at an Israeli military base repairing damaged vehicles. His pro-Israel stance was never challenged by the mainstream US news media.

But with the election in February of Lori Lightfoot as mayor, Chicago’s Arabs have an opportunity to reverse the damage that Emanuel caused.

Lightfoot was sworn into office on Monday and serves for four years. She has already reached out to Arabs, appointing at least two Palestinians to her 400-person transition team, whose members often remain and assume government positions with new administrations.

The two Palestinians in her transition team are Rush Darwish and Rami Nashashibi. Darwish has organized several successful marathons in Chicago and Bethlehem to raise funds for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Nashashibi is involved with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN).

As an African American, Lightfoot knows what it is like to be the victim of racism, stereotypes and discrimination. That makes her more sensitive to the concerns of Chicago’s Arabs.