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Indian Elections: Modi Close to Victory, Rival Returns to Jail

One of Narendra Modi's main opponents returned in prison on Sunday in India and promised to fight the "dictatorship" of the Prime Minister, on the verge of winning hands down the elections which ended on Saturday.

The results of the election, the largest in history with 968 million voters, are expected Tuesday but an exit poll released Saturday after six weeks of voting predicted another landslide victory for the 73-year-old Hindu nationalist leader.

Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi's chief minister, is among the leaders of the opposition coalition that had hoped to oust the prime minister from power after two successive terms.

He was detained in March as part of a corruption investigation but has always maintained his innocence. His arrest, a month before the start of the general election, was described by his supporters as a “political conspiracy” orchestrated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

But India's highest court released him on bail last month to allow him to campaign, on condition that he return to detention as soon as the vote is over.

Indian Elections: Modi Close to Victory, Rival Returns to Jail

Poll workers deposit electronic voting machines and other voting materials at a collection centre in Varanasi, after the seventh and final phase of India's general elections, June 1, 2024 © AFP – Niharika KULKARNI

“I have been out for election campaigning for 21 days… today I will surrender by going to Tihar,” a jail in New Delhi, Kejriwal announced on social media.

“When power turns into dictatorship, jail becomes a must,” he later said from his Aam Aadmi Party headquarters, saying he would continue to “fight” behind bars.

He was later jailed, a spokesman for his party.

The official results are expected on Tuesday, but Mr. Modi's supporters in his constituency of Varanasi (or Benares), the spiritual capital of Hinduism, consider that their leader's victory is inevitable. “His government is back,” assures Nand Lal, who sells flowers in front of a temple.

– Obstacles to the opposition campaign –

The vote took place in oppressive heat in much of the country.

At least 33 Indian election officials died due to the heat on the last day of elections on Saturday, in the state of Uttar Pradesh (North), declared a local electoral official, suggesting a very heavy toll at the national level.

Indian Elections: Modi Close to Victory, Rival Returns to Jail

Voters wait to cast their votes during the seventh and final phase of India's general elections on June 1, 2024 in Varanasi © AFP – Niharika KULKARNI

The opposition denounced numerous obstacles to its campaign during the election and several of its leaders, including Arvind Kejriwal, are under criminal investigation.

Mr Kejriwal's administration was accused of corruption after he implemented a policy of liberalizing the sale of alcohol in 2021, renouncing a lucrative state stake in the sector.

This policy was changed the following year, but the subsequent investigation into the licensing led to the imprisonment of two key allies of Mr. Kejriwal.

Protests in support of Mr. Kejriwal, who denied any wrongdoing and refused to leave his post after his arrest, were organized in many major Indian cities after his detention in March.

Opponents of Narendra Modi and rights defenders have long been sounding the alarm about a regression in freedoms in India.

Freedom House, a US think tank, noted this year that the BJP was “increasingly using government institutions to target political opponents”.

Rahul Gandhi, leader of the Congress party and scion of a dynasty that dominated Indian politics for decades, was found guilty of defamation last year following a complaint filed by a member of Mr. Modi's party.

For a time ineligible, he was reinstated in Parliament after the Supreme Court suspended his conviction.

Hemant Soren, former chief minister of the eastern state of Jharkhand, was also arrested in February in another corruption probe.

Arvind Kejriwal, Rahul Gandhi and Hemant Soren are all members of the opposition INDIA alliance, bringing together dozens of parties that have nevertheless struggled to gain influence in the election against Narendra Modi.


All rights of reproduction and representation reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116