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India Votes in Final Phase of General Election Amid Record Heat

India voted on Saturday in the final phase of a protracted general election, held under record summer heat in many areas. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his challengers expressed confidence in their victory in polls primarily focused on inequality and religion.

The seven-phase election, which began on April 19, saw nearly a billion eligible voters. The final phase included polling in the last 57 seats, including Modi’s constituency in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi. Over 100 million people were registered to vote across eight states and federal territories, including the northern state of Punjab and the eastern states of Bihar, West Bengal, and Odisha.

“Calling upon the voters to turn out in large numbers and vote,” Modi said as polls opened. “Together, let’s make our democracy more vibrant and participative.”

Modi is seeking a rare third consecutive term as prime minister, with his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) facing an opposition alliance of two dozen parties led by the Congress. Despite widespread expectations of a BJP majority, the opposition alliance, called ‘INDIA’ or the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance, has mounted a strong campaign, casting some doubt on an easy victory for Modi.

Scorching temperatures and severe heatwaves have exacerbated voter fatigue in the majority-Hindu nation of 1.4 billion people, where unemployment and inflation are key concerns. Nearly two dozen election officials in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh died of suspected heatstroke ahead of the vote on Friday.

Both Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi have predicted heavy defeats for each other, claiming their respective alliances would form the next government. TV exit polls, expected after the vote concludes, will provide early projections of party performance ahead of the official results on June 4. However, exit polls in India have historically been unreliable.

Modi began his re-election campaign emphasizing his achievements over the past decade but soon pivoted to targeting the opposition, accusing them of favoring India’s minority Muslims, who comprise roughly 200 million of the population. Analysts suggest this shift aimed to energize his Hindu nationalist base after low turnout in the initial phase raised concerns about BJP voter engagement.

The opposition has focused on affirmative action and protecting the constitution from what they describe as Modi’s authoritarian tendencies.

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