(zf) Indian national elections are underway. Polls opened on April 11th and will commence in a staggered format ending on May 19th. Although the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is generally expected to retain its majority, there are several key developments that could damper the ruling party’s expectations, including disappointing unemployment numbers, a backlash among some rural farmers, reduced tensions with its arch-rival Pakistan, and increasing voter turn out among women (who generally find BJP less appealing than men). [Washington Post]

Constituencies will be voting for their local member of parliament, where the Prime Minister will subsequently be appointed. The PM will be appointed from the party or coalition that manages to fill a majority of seats in India’s Lok Sabha (lower house). Some 900 million Indians are eligible to vote, constituting it as the world’s largest exercise in democracy. [New York Times]

Thus far, the election’s implementation seems to be going relatively smooth. There are some reports, however, of malfunctioning voting machines and coercion from local poll workers to vote for certain candidates. In southeastern Andhra Pradesh a more serious disturbance arose: a fight broke out between workers of the local Telegu Desam and YSR Congress parties (not affiliated with the main-opposition Indian National Congress Party). One worker from Telegu Desam was killed in the clashes. [India Today]

Meanwhile, BJP has received a backlash in international and local media outlets for remarks perceived to be a direct attack against minority religious groups, especially Muslims. Specifically, BJP President Amit Shah promised to “remove every infiltrator from the country, [excluding] Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs.” It is important to note that these three religions are products of the Indian subcontinent; Islam is not. With that said, the religion has a deep history in the country and is practiced by over 172 million Indians. [CNN]

Although Mr. Modi’s tenure hasn’t been directly marred by large-scale Muslim attacks, it’s been widely reported that BJP has generally turned a blind eye to anti-Muslim rhetoric from within its party. For some, its become normalized. Likewise, there has been an increase in activity from Hindu vigilante groups since Mr. Modi’s election, including reports of devastating violence against Muslims – especially after rumors of moving cows for slaughter (cows are sacred symbols of the Hindu religion). [New York Times]

In this regard, Mr. Shah’s remark was more than just a cheap fish for votes among India’s more nationalist-inclined constituents: an accompanying policy was proposed as well. Shah proposed the expansion of the National Registry of Citizens nationwide in order to confirm ongoing residency in the country before March 1971(a date when East and West Pakistan broke into Bangladesh and Pakistan, respectively). The controversial registry is currently employed in the northeastern state of Assam, where some 4 million residents were deemed unauthorized to stay in India due to lack of proper evidence in 2018. Critics say the policy is a direct attack on Muslims and other minority groups, especially due to the history of immigration across the Bangladeshi-Indian border after East Pakistan was dissolved. If expanded, the registry would likely turn the country into a socio-political tinderbox. [Quartz]

After independence in 1947 India was fashioned as a multi-ethnic and diverse state. Prime Minister Jawaharlal argued that only a pluralistic democracy could hold the country together. Hindu nationalists were outraged by this proposition. Mohandas Gandhi, a figure identified as the embodiment of this movement, was subsequently assassinated by Hindu extremists in 1948. If BJP maintains power this year, it will be the longest streak of electoral victories by non-secularists in the country since independence. [NPR]