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Last day of general elections in sweltering India

India completes a long six-week process of general elections on Saturday, with the vote, in the middle of a heatwave, in the spiritual capital of Hinduism, place strength of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his nationalist campaign.

A victory for the prime minister for a third term is the most likely outcome as results are expected on Tuesday, largely thanks to his image as a fierce defender of India's majority religion.

The opposition accused Mr. Modi of making comments stigmatizing Muslims and fueling sectarian tensions in the middle of the electoral process.

Varanasi (or Benares), the 73-year-old prime minister's northern constituency, is the spiritual capital of Hinduism, and the place where worshipers from all over India come to cremate their loved ones died on the banks of the Ganges.

It is one of the last cities where people vote, following a staged electoral process, often in grueling heat.

Last day of general elections in sweltering India

A voter casts his vote during the final phase of the general elections on June 1, 2024 in Jalandhar, India © AFP – Shammi MEHRA

Temperatures in Varanasi are forecast to reach 44 degrees on Saturday, while temperatures have exceeded 45°C in many cities in recent days.

So much so that an Indian court in Rajasthan, in the northwest, urged the government to declare a national emergency in the face of this heat wave which, according to him, caused “hundreds” of deaths.

– “Sense of pride” –

Varanasi is the city where public support for the policy of strengthening ties between Hinduism and power, led by Mr. Modi, is the strongest.

Last day of general elections in sweltering India

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

“Modi is clearly winning,” Vijayendra Kumar Singh, who works in one of the many hotels in this popular pilgrimage site, told AFP.

“There's a sense of pride in everything he does, and that's why people vote for him.”

Narendra Modi has already given his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), two landslide victories in 2014 and 2019, largely thanks to his appeal to the Hindu electorate.

This year, he grandly inaugurated a large temple dedicated to the deity Rama, in Ayodhya on the site previously occupied by a centuries-old mosque which was razed by Hindu fanatics in 1992.

The construction of the temple, long demanded by promoters of Hinduism, was celebrated across the country, with live broadcasts and street parties.

This inauguration, as well as numerous other signals in favor of India's majority religion over the past decade, have fueled concerns among the increasingly strong Muslim minority of 200 million people, for its future.

Last day of general elections in sweltering India

Narendra Modi himself made controversial remarks towards Muslims during his campaign, calling them “infiltrators”. He also accused the opposition coalition, formed by two dozen parties from various sides, of wanting to redistribute India's wealth to Muslims.

Analysts expect for a long time on a victory for Mr. Modi against an opposition alliance, which has not nominated a candidate for the post of prime minister.

Several legal investigations opened against its opponents and a tax investigation which this year froze the bank accounts of Congress, India's largest opposition party, have further strengthened its ascendancy.

Western democracies have largely turned a blind eye to threats to rights and freedoms in the country, in order to preserve a valuable ally in the face of China's growing assertiveness.

Narendra Modi's image has been bolstered at home by India's growing diplomatic and economic influence, which overtook Britain as the world's fifth-largest economy in 2022.

Last day of general elections in sweltering India

A polling station during the final phase of the general elections on June 1, 2024 in Jalandhar, India © AFP – Shammi MEHRA

“As an Indian, I feel that he brought a lot of respect and prestige to India during his tenure,” Shikha Aggarwal, 40, told AFP , leaving a polling station on Saturday.

Indian voters voted in seven phases over six weeks to facilitate the immense logistical operation of organizing an election in the world's most populous country .

The count and results are expected on Tuesday, but exit polls released after polls close on Saturday should provide some indication of who wins.

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