India

India election 2019: 8-12 April the week that was

An Indian army man seen standing alert as the Indian army convoys moves on the National Highway on the outskirts of Srinagar. Image copyright Getty Images

India has entered full election mode: voting began on 11 April, and the final ballot will be cast more than five weeks later on 19 May. Every day, the BBC will be bringing you all the latest updates on the twists and turns of the world's largest democracy.

On Friday, a row erupted over a veterans' letter warning of campaign rhetoric

What happened?

A row erupted over a letter from retired Indian military officers urging President Ram Nath Kovind to ensure that political parties do not use the armed forces to "further their political agendas".

The letter, which is signed by eight former service chiefs and more than 100 veterans, is addressed to the president. It was sent to various Indian publications on Thursday night - the first day of voting in the Indian election.

"We appeal to to you to ensure that the secular and a-political character of the Armed Forces is preserved," the letter said.

It referred to the "unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking credit for military operations like cross-border air strikes, and even going so far as to claim the Armed Forces to be 'Modiji ka sena' [Modi's army]".

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Mod has made national security a key plank in his election campaign

But on Friday the president's office denied that it received such a letter - and some some of the veterans, including former service chiefs, distanced themselves from it, saying they had not signed it.

"I don't agree with whatever has been written in that letter. We have been misquoted," retired air marshal NC Suri told ANI news agency that he didn't sign the letter.

"I wrote that armed forces are apolitical and support the politically elected government. And no, my consent has not been taken for any such letter," he said.

But other signatories appeared to stand by the letter. Kapil Kak, a retired air vice-marshal, told The Hindu newspaper that he agrees with everything in the letter, adding that "the letter was sent by email and endorsement was also given over email".

Why does this matter?

It's an interesting development, especially since the letter appeared on the first day of voting in an election that is largely being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It also specifically refers to Mr Modi and the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which have drawn flak for including India's recent strikes in Pakistani territory in their election campaign.

At a rally earlier in the week, Mr Modi asked first-time voters to vote for "those who carried out the air strike". Local media reported that India's election body had asked its officials to investigate the remarks.

And Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and a close ally of Mr Modi, landed in trouble for calling the Indian army "Modi's army".

Some analysts believe that Mr Modi and his party may get a boost ahead of voting because of the narrative they have adopted over the attack.

How do you vote in the election?

Here's a video explaining everything that happens inside a polling station - and what happens to your vote after that:

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Media captionJourney of a vote

Three dead amid violence in the first polling phase

What happened?

At least three people died on Thursday, as tens of millions of Indians flocked to the polls to vote in the first phase of the general election.

Two men died amid clashes at polling booths in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh while one person died in Indian-administered Kashmir as protests broke out in Kupwara district after polling, according to local media.

Long queues dominated the first phase of polling, as voters turned up in high numbers across 18 states and two union territories.

The election commission said that turnout on Thursday was more or less on par with polling during the first phase the 2014 polls.

The hilly north-eastern state of Tripura recorded the highest voter turnout at 81.8% while the eastern state of Bihar saw the lowest at 50%.

In the 2014 election, overall voter turnout was about 66%.

On Thursday, it was ready, set, vote!

Tens of millions of Indians voted on the first day of a general election that is being seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Indians in 20 states and union territories cast their ballots in 91 constituencies.

The seven-phase vote to elect a new lower house of parliament will continue until 19 May. Counting day is 23 May.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Indian lambadi tribeswomen at a polling station in southern India

Hundreds of voters began to queue up outside polling centres early Thursday morning for the first of seven days of voting over six weeks. Their concerns ranged from jobs and unemployment to India's role in the world and national security.

The states and union territories that went to the polls were: Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Sikkim, Telangana, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Andaman and Nicobar islands and Lakshadweep.

Polling in some states, such as Andhra Pradesh and Nagaland, concluded in one day. But other states, such as Uttar Pradesh, will hold polls in several phases.

On Wednesday, Rahul Gandhi filed his nomination

What happened?

India's main opposition party president Rahul Gandhi has filed his nomination in his family stronghold Amethi, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

He travelled to the district office in a 3km procession where he was cheered by thousands of party supporters.

He has been the MP of the constituency for 15 years and is campaigning for a fourth term.

Why does this matter?

Rahul Gandhi's performance in Amethi - a seat he has already won three times - will be closely watched.

In 2014, he won by a majority of a little over 100,000 votes - which was seen as being too close given that the constituency is seen as a family stronghold. He is up against his same rival from then - BJP MP Smriti Irani who led a spirited campaign against him.

Ms Irani has wasted no time attacking Mr Gandhi.

His decision to also contest from Wayanad in the southern state of Kerala has been called an "insult" by Ms Irani. Some of his critics have said that the second nomination showed that he was afraid that he would lose in Amethi, although the party says it is actually to allow the party to build a base in the south.

Be that as it may, losing Amethi is just not an option for Mr Gandhi. There is way too much at his stake - most of all his reputation and credibility as a leader.

His supporters are confident though. One of them told the BBC's Geeta Pandey who is at the rally, that this time Mr Gandhi would win by 500,000 votes and no-one would vote for Ms Irani.

NaMo TV tests limits of Election Commission

What is happening?

NaMo TV - a television channel dedicated to streaming speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi - has continued doing so despite a 48 hour "blackout" that news organisations are expected to adhere to before voting. This means that no speeches by politicians, advertisements or other content that could "sway voters" can be broadcast during this period.

But with voting due to begin in less than 24 hours, the channel is broadcasting speeches by Mr Modi non-stop.

Why does it matter?

Firstly, this looks to be a direct violation of the Election Commission's guidelines, although the government has said that NaMo TV is a "platform service" offered by cable operators as a "special service". Some cable operators had initially listed it as a "Hindi news channel" but this was quickly withdrawn.

As a "special platform service", the government says the channel does not require license or permission to broadcast content.

Yet as the Indian Express newspaper points out, the decision to continue broadcasting Mr Modi's speeches may contravene a section in the guidelines that prohibits display of "any election matter by means of cinematography, television or other similar apparatus" in the 48-hour period before polling concludes in an area.

"The legal and definitional confusion about NaMo TV has arisen only because no one so far has exploited this loophole in existing broadcast regulation on such a massive scale," writes MK Venu in the Wire website.

The channel has, in fact, been mired in controversy since it quietly launched on all India's major satellite service providers 10 days ago.

Despite it being unveiled on Twitter on the official account of Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Mr Modi himself told a local news station that "I am told some people have launched a channel though I have not had time to see it myself".

There is no information on who owns the channel or even from where they are sourcing their content.

On Tuesday... Rahul Gandhi faced an unusual battle

What happened?

India's main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi, is up against candidates who have the same name as him - well, almost.

He will be running against a 30-year-old local politician named Raghul Gandhi in Wayanad in the southern state of Kerala.

But there is a third candidate named Rahul Gandhi who has also thrown his hat in to the ring.

Why does this matter?

Rival parties are known to put up candidates with similar or same names to confuse voters, says BBC Hindi's Imran Qureshi, adding that this happens frequently in other constituencies as well.

But Raghul Gandhi told the BBC that he was not in the race because his name was uncannily similar to that of his rival. Both filed their nomination papers on 4 April.

"He is a national leader and I am a small state-level leader. I am a serious candidate," he said.

The BBC was unable to contact the third candidate.

Wayanad is considered a Congress party stronghold - so it may not be unusual to find people named after party leaders. Raghul Gandhi's father was a member of the party and his sister is named Indira, after the former prime minister.

Does Raghul Gandhi think he will win? "I expect to get my money back. For that, I should get one third of the votes of the winning candidate. That will be victory for me," he said.

Former finance minister: 'India can afford minimum income scheme'

What is happening?

In an interview with BBC Tamil, India's former finance minister P Chidambaram has defended his opposition Congress party's pledge to create "the world's largest minimum income scheme".

The scheme, which is called Nyay (Justice), guarantees a basic income of 72,000 rupees ($1,035; £791) yearly to 50 million of India's poorest families. At an estimated cost of $52bn, it's Congress' biggest offering to voters so far.

"We now have the capacity to implement a scheme of this nature," Mr Chidambaram said, adding that it was possible given India's GDP, its projected growth over the next five years and the total expenditure by central and state governments.

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Media captionIndia election 2019: Former FM defends minimum income scheme

"We could not have done this 20 years ago. We could not have done it even 10 years ago. But today we believe India has the capacity to directly address the issue of poverty among the bottom 20% of Indian people," he said.

Why is this important?

Since the Congress party released details about the scheme last month in its manifesto, opponents have questioned how the party plans to fund such a mammoth scheme.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley slammed the party over its pledge, calling it a "bluff announcement".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption P Chidambaram says India is now in a position to tackle poverty

"A party with such a terrible track record of poverty alleviation has no right to make lofty assurances," Mr Jaitley told reporters on 24 March.

At a rally in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, PM Narendra Modi also attacked the scheme - referring to it as a a "big scam".

Others in the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have said that India's poor are already receiving more support under existing schemes.

But given the scale of the Congress' scheme, it is likely to capture the imagination of voters - and the BJP could see that as a threat.

India votes 2019

On Monday, the BJP released its election manifesto

What happened?

The governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) released its election manifesto, which promised a slew of welfare schemes to India's farmers - a key vote bank in a country where nearly half the population is engaged in agriculture.

It promises to expand a farmers' income scheme that targeted only small farmers (those who owned up to two hectares of land) to include all farmers in the country - they would each receive 6,000 rupees ($86; £66) yearly.

The manifesto pledges to provide a pension for small farmers and traders; and the party has renewed its earlier promise of doubling farmers' incomes by 2022.

National security is a major part of the manifesto - India's home minister Rajnath Singh repeatedly referred to India's "zero tolerance against terror" while speaking after the manifesto was released.

The document includes other welfare measures, from permanent housing for the poor to piped water in every household to water management and recycling.

Why does this matter?

It isn't surprising that the BJP manifesto targets farmers because Indian agriculture, blighted by a depleting water table and declining productivity, is in crisis. And protests by farmers have regularly made headlines in the past five years.

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Media captionIndia's elections: Why you should care

Like the Congress, the BJP has also promised to reserve 33% of seats in the parliament and state legislatures for women. Both parties had committed to this ahead of past elections as well.

Some have said the manifesto makes no major promises or announcements that will be hard to deliver.

The BJP's manifesto also underlines some of the party's core pledges, which are popular with its right-wing supporters. These include cancelling the "special status" granted to Kashmir by the Constitution; and building a Hindu temple at a disputed site where a mosque once stood but was demolished by Hindu mobs in the early 1990s.

Coverage from previous weeks:

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