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  • Voting continues in Indian general elections.

    Voting continues in Indian general elections. | Photo: Reuters

Published 29 April 2019

The election, the world’s biggest democratic exercise with about 900 million voters, started on April 11 with Prime Minister Modi in the lead.

India’s battleground eastern state of West Bengal took the center stage in the fourth phase of a staggered general election Monday after clashes broke out between supporters of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party and a regional bloc.

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In West Bengal, a populous eastern state where Modi is trying to gain seats to offset likely losses in northern India, security forces chased away people wielding sticks after workers from Modi’s far-right Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took on those from regional Trinamool Congress, police said.

An official with the Election Commission of India said paramilitary forces fired a blank round inside a polling station in another constituency in the state after a scuffle between voters and troops, who were demanding that mobile phones be kept aside while voting, as rules state.

There were no immediate reports of any poll-related injuries in West Bengal, where at least one person was killed and three injured during the third phase of voting last week.

The election, the world’s biggest democratic exercise with about 900 million voters, started on April 11 with Modi in the lead amid heightened tension with long-time rival Pakistan.

The last phase of voting is on May 19. There are a total of 545 seats in parliament’s lower house.

The BJP is in a direct, and sometimes bloody, fight in West Bengal with Trinamool, whose chief, Mamata Banerjee, is one of Modi’s biggest critics and a possible prime ministerial candidate.

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The BJP holds only two of West Bengal’s 42 parliamentary seats.

“We have asked for central forces at all polling booths so that free and fair elections can be held in the state,” said Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, a minister in Modi’s cabinet, referring to federal paramilitary police.

Trinamool alleged that federal security forces were trying to influence voters to back the BJP wherever they were deployed.

Maidul Islam, a professor of political science at Kolkata’s Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, said the stakes were high for both parties with Trinamool hoping to be part of a federal government coalition.

Political analysts say the BJP may struggle to repeat its strong showing this time due mainly to a jobs shortage and weak farm prices, issues upon which the main opposition Congress party has seized.

Modi has played up his record on national security after he sent warplanes into Pakistan in late February in response to a suicide bomb attack by an Islamist militant group based there that killed 40 Indian police in the Indian occupied Kashmir region.

In recent days, he has evoked the deadly Easter Sunday bombings in neighboring Sri Lanka to remind voters of the dangers India faces.

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