Debate in Indian election turns ugly

15 May, 2019 12:00 AM printer

NEW DELHI: From jibes over the prime minister’s wife to criticism of the main opposition leader’s family holiday three decades ago, one trend stands out in this year’s general election campaign in India: this time, it’s personal.

The world’s largest democracy, with around 900 million eligible voters, wraps up polling held over six weeks on Sunday. Results will be known on May 23, reports Reuters.

Election observers say this has been an unusually hostile campaign even by Indian standards, devoid of real policy debate to the expected benefit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). “The last few elections were about corruption or inflation,” said Harsh Pant, a political analyst at the Observer Research Foundation think-tank in New Delhi. “This time, there are no real issues being discussed.”

Modi won a surprise majority in 2014, riding a wave of anger over perceived graft by the Congress party, which has governed India for the majority of the seven decades after the end of British rule in 1947. He entered this election cycle under pressure, losing three state polls in December amid rising anger over weak farm incomes and unemployment.

But the early phase of campaigning was dominated by national security after a suicide car bomb attack by a Pakistan-based militant group killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in the disputed region of Kashmir.

On Monday, the leader of a powerful regional party urged women not to vote for Modi because he had abandoned his wife as a teenager.

This month Modi said Gandhi’s deceased father Rajiv, himself a former prime minister, ended his life as “India’s most corrupt man” who used a warship during a 1987 holiday as his family’s own “personal taxi”.

Congress denies this.