The first phase of India’s general election took place last Thursday, April 11th, and will continue in six more phases for the next month. The states that took part in voting include: Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Sikkim, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Andaman & Nicobar, and Lakshadweep. There was a 69.43% voter turnout on April 11th, with about 14 million people eligible to vote in the first phase. While the final counting of votes and results will be released on May 23rd, there have been several updates regarding the first election phase.
The Election Commission has banned two senior political leaders from campaigning for three days, due to numerous complaints the Commission has received regarding their behavior on the campaign trail. Yogi Adityanath, who is the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and a member of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), is one of the barred. While campaigning last week, Adityanath stated that his party was looking for votes from people of all religions, except those practicing Islam. He asserted, “They have said that we want only Muslim votes and we do not need any other votes, I have come for the rest of the votes to you.” The head of the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, was also banned for two days because of comments while on the campaign trail. She made comments that appealed to voters on the basis of religion, which is against electoral rules.
There were two other political leaders banned from campaigning as well; Azam Khan from the Samajwadi party and current cabinet minister Maneka Gandhi. Khan received backlash for a derogatory comment made about his female BJP opponent, which was suggesting that she was minimizing the extent of her Hindu nationalist ideals. Gandhi was banned due to a video that was released recently, which showed her making comments about the election on the basis of religion as well. The Guardian reported, “The six-week election season that started last week has been rife with incendiary religious appeals, particularly from the BJP, whose overarching political goal is to forge a cohesive political identity out of the country’s extraordinarily diverse community of about 1 billion Hindus.” While Indian law prohibits candidates from appealing to voters based on caste and religion, this is not always practiced during the election season.
The Election Commission has also commented on the integrity of numerous broadcasting stations due to their biased coverage of the election and the running political parties. Last week, the ECI called out the broadcaster Doordarshan News for their “unbalanced” commentary of the political parties partaking in the election. This came after the Congress Party stated that BJP was “receiving undue coverage from the national news channel and its affiliates.” The ECI also banned the NaMo channel, which is a channel that focused solely on Prime Minister Modi and his campaign. As the Election Commission is responsible for maintaining the impartiality of the elections, any distributions that can be considered political advertisements are prohibited during the election season unless the ECI approves of them.
While the first phase of the elections is over, there are still several more phases that have to be conducted before the general elections results are released. Voting for the second phase of the elections will take place on April 18th, and voting for the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh phases will take place on April 23, April 29, May 6, May 12 and May 19, respectively.
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