Indian election 2024: Firebrands and stalwarts among candidates in running for stage four

More than 170 million voters eligible to take part in latest round of polling for 101 seats

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India recorded a 62.31 per cent voter turnout in the fourth phase of elections on Monday.

Controversial politicians, actors and the country's youngest candidate were in the fray for the fourth round of the multistage elections across nine states and the federally administered Kashmir region for 96 parliamentary seats in the Lok Sabha – the lower house of parliament.

The elections are being held in the southern states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, eastern states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal, the central state of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh in the north and Maharashtra on the west coast.

The highest voter turnout was recorded in West Bengal with 75.66 per cent whereas Kashmir recorded the lowest with 35.75 per cent, as per the Election Commission of India.

More than 170 million people – 89 million men and 87 million women – were eligible to vote in the fourth phase. They include 1.29 million voters over the age of 85.

Authorities increased security for voting in the parliamentary constituency of Srinagar, the main city of the former state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in 2019 scrapped the limited autonomy granted to the Muslim-majority region – which is also claimed by Pakistan and has witnessed a decades-long insurgency – and placed it under federal rule.

Candidates from two biggest pro-India parties in the region, the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party, are fielding candidates for the Srinagar seat.

Among the 1,700 candidates whose immediate political fate will be decided on Monday is the youngest to take part in this election, Shambhavi Choudhary, 25.

She is contesting from Samastipur in Bihar as a candidate of the National Democratic Alliance coalition led by Mr Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

As Mr Modi seeks a third consecutive term in office, his party has sewn up alliances with about 40 parties as part of the NDA.

The main opposition Congress party is leading the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc made up of nearly two dozen national and regional parties.

Other prominent candidates include former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh Akhilesh Yadav, former cricketer Yusuf Pathan, Mahua Moitra and Asaduddin Owaisi, a fiery Muslim politician from Hyderabad.

Ms Moitra, 49, a former investment banker who is seeking a second term in the Krishnanagar constituency in West Bengal, is one of India’s most prominent female politicians.

Known for her outspoken criticism of Mr Modi and his policies, Ms Moitra made headlines in November after being accused of taking bribes from a business tycoon to raise questions in parliament about the billionaire Gautam Adani, who is considered to be close to Mr Modi.

In Hyderabad, a family bastion for Mr Owaisi, he is being challenged by Maadhavi Latha, a former award-winning actress fielded by the BJP.

Mr Owaisi is known for raising the issues of Muslims in parliament. In 2022 he won the Best Parliamentarian award given annually by a private media house.

Voters in Andhra Pradesh and neighbouring Odisha will also be electing their state legislative assemblies on Monday.

While Andhra Pradesh is holding elections for all 175 seats in the state legislature, polling in Odisha will be for 23 seats as part of a four-stage election to its 147-seat legislature.

Meanwhile, Mr Modi held a roadshow in his constituency of Varanasi in northern Uttar Pradesh on Monday, a day before filing his nomination. The seat will go for polls on June 1.

Perched on top of an open vehicle adorned with saffron flowers, Mr Modi rode for six kilometres across the city – one of the world’s oldest and known to be the spiritual capital of Hinduism.

He waved at followers who flanked the sides of the road wearing saffron clothes and carrying BJP flags. They chanted his name while the sounds of supporters blowing through conch shells, a Hindu ritual, and drumbeats filled the air. Life-size posters of the prime minister had been placed across the city.

Varanasi has been a bastion of the ruling BJP since 1991 with Congress having breached it only once in 2004.

Mr Modi had won with more than 581,000 votes in 2014 and over 674,000 votes in 2019, respectively, from the constituency.

This year’s general election is the second-longest in India's history after its first post-independence vote held over four months in 1951-52. The previous election in 2019 took 39 days.

About 970 million people are eligible to vote throughout this year's ballot.

The first phase took place on April 19 when 66.14 per cent of voter turnout was registered, while the second phase on April 26 drew 66.71 per cent out to cast their ballot.

The next phase of polls is due on May 20.

The elections will conclude on June 1 and counting of votes will be held on June 4, when the results will also be declared.

Updated: May 13, 2024, 5:02 PM