Business And Bollywood Vote In India's Election

(MENAFN- The Peninsula) AFP

Mumbai: A parade of India's business and entertainment elite -- many of them supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi -- went to the polls on Monday as the financial capital Mumbai voted in the latest round of the country's election.

But turnout in the fifth round of the mammoth Democratic exercise fell to its lowest so far, election commission figures showed, as parts of the country sweltered under a heatwave that saw temperatures soar to 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit).

Modi, 73, is widely expected to win a third term when the election concludes early next month, thanks in large part to his aggressive championing of India's majority Hindu faith.

"My vote is for the BJP and Modi," said Deepak Mahajan, 42, who works in banking. "There is no other choice if you care about the future of the economy and business."

Big conglomerates have provided Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a campaign war chest that dwarfs its rivals, while Bollywood stars have backed its ideological commitment to more closely align the country's majority religion and its politics.

The BJP received $730 million in five years from leading companies and wealthy businesspeople through electoral bonds, a contentious political donation tool since ruled illegal by India's top court, making it by far the biggest single beneficiary.

Conglomerate owners support Modi's government because it caters to the needs of India's "existing oligarchic business elite", Deepanshu Mohan of OP Jindal Global University told AFP.

Lower corporate taxes, less red tape and cutting "municipal regulatory corruption" have also helped Modi win corporate titans' affection, he said.

N. Chandrasekaran, the chairman of Tata Sons, a sprawling Indian conglomerate with interests ranging from cars and software to salt and tea, cast his ballot at a polling station in an upper-class Mumbai neighbourhood.

"It's a great privilege to have the opportunity to vote," he told reporters.

Asia's richest man, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, voted at the same polling station, posing to show reporters his ink-stained finger.

Anand Mahindra, chairman of the eponymous automaker, told news agency PTI after voting: "If you look at the world around us, there is so much uncertainty, there is such instability, there's terror, there's war.

"And we are in the middle of a stable democracy where we get a chance to vote peacefully, to decide what kind of government we want. It's a blessing."

Bollywood stars

Modi's popularity is founded on his image as a champion of Hinduism, rather than an economy still characterised by widespread unemployment and income inequality.

This year he presided over the inauguration of a grand temple to the deity Ram, built on the grounds of a centuries-old mosque in Ayodhya razed by Hindu zealots in 1992.

Construction of the temple fulfilled a longstanding demand of Hindu activists and was widely celebrated across the country with back-to-back television coverage and street parties.

The ceremony was attended by hundreds of eminent Indians including Ambani, whose family donated $300,000 to the temple's trust, along with cricket hero and Mumbai native Sachin Tendulkar, and Bollywood film star Amitabh Bachchan.

Numerous actors backed Modi's administration since swept to office a decade ago.

Soap actor turned government minister Smriti Irani beat India's most prominent opposition leader Rahul Gandhi to win her seat at the last election in 2019.

Filmmakers have produced several provocative and ideologically charged films to match the ruling party's sectarian messaging, which critics say deliberately maligns India's 200-million-plus Muslim minority.

But some in Mumbai, like delivery driver Sunil Kirti voted for the opposition Congress party.

"In the past year I am earning less, but prices of basic essentials... food and vegetables have gone up," said Kirti, 29. "Who is to blame for that?"

Heatwave returns

India votes in seven phases over six weeks to ease the immense logistical burden of staging an election in the world's most populous country, with more than 968 million people on the roll.

Monday's polling took place as parts of India endured their second heatwave in three weeks, with temperatures soaring to 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit).

Turnout reached just 57.5 percent according to the election commission, its lowest so far.

"Voters came out in large numbers braving hot weather in many parts of the states that went for polls today," it said, but the numbers were down almost 12 percent on the previous phase on Friday.

Fewer than half of registered electors -- 48.9 percent -- went to the polling stations in Maharastra, the state which has Mumbai as its capital.

Constituencies in cities including Mumbai, Thane and Nashik in Maharashtra and Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, "continued the trend of urban apathy" from the last election in 2019, the commission said.

Scientific research shows climate change is causing heatwaves to become longer, more frequent and more intense, with Asia warming faster than the global average.

Turnout was already down from the previous vote, with analysts blaming widespread expectations of a Modi victory as well as the heat.


The Peninsula

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