Mumbai Votes in India’s Election as Opposition Gets Boost

(Bloomberg) -- Voters in India’s financial capital Mumbai — home to billionaires, film stars and millions of slum dwellers — went to the polls on Monday, with the opposition alliance making a renewed push to break Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hold on power.

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Voting is taking place in six constituencies in Mumbai as well as 43 others across the country in phase five of India’s seven-phase elections. Nationwide polls began on April 19 and will run until June 1, with almost 1 billion eligible voters choosing candidates for the 543 seats in the lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha. Results are expected on June 4.

Financial markets in India were closed Monday due to a public holiday in Mumbai to allow residents to vote.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was predicting a big majority win in India’s election, but a slight drop in voter turnout and media reports of a tight contest in some areas have raised questions about the party’s support. The BJP is facing an opposition alliance of more than 20 parties, which has been given a renewed boost recently following the release on bail of popular leader Arvind Kejriwal from jail.

He’s since criss-crossed the country to drum up support for the opposition alliance and criticize Modi’s government. Speaking to supporters in Delhi on Sunday, Kejriwal urged them to vote for the opposition, saying there was “anger everywhere” in the country because of inflation and high youth unemployment.

In Mumbai, voters are concerned about crumbling infrastructure and poor public transport that clogs up the city’s roads and sometimes results in tragic accidents, like the collapse last week of a massive billboard in a freak storm, killing 16 people. Voters in the city are also notoriously apathetic, with turnout reaching only 54% in the last election in 2019.

At 5 p.m. on Monday, average voter turnout had reached almost 56.7% for the fifth phase of polls in the country, according to the Election Commission of India.

“Mumbai is a maximum city where business, infrastructure and livelihood related issues play a bigger role as compared to any other social topics,” said Pradeep Gupta, a psephologist and the founder of Axis My India. “Overall, this year I expect the voting turnout to be better than 2019 as voters are more politically conscious than ever.”

The BJP along with regional allies have nominated prominent candidates in two constituencies in the city: Trade Minister Piyush Goyal and Ujjwal Nikam, the prosecutor in the trial against the 2008 Mumbai attackers.

A former bank director, Goyal is running for office for the first time and has spent the past few weeks holding roadshows and rallies in the congested Mumbai North constituency. He was previously appointed to the upper house of parliament three times.

Elections in Maharashtra state, where Mumbai is located, have been fairly predictable until 2019 with the regional Shiv Sena party dominating in alliance with the BJP. The state is now one of the biggest wild cards in 2024 with the Shiv Sena splitting and another regional party also dividing, resulting in family members fighting each other and party veterans resigning posts or campaigning for age-old rivals.

In Uttar Pradesh state, Rahul Gandhi of the main opposition Indian National Congress will contest elections from the Raebareli constituency, a seat held by his mother Sonia for four terms. Voting will also take place in Amethi constituency in Uttar Pradesh, a seat that Rahul Gandhi previously won in three elections before losing in 2019 to Smriti Irani, a cabinet minister.

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“My family and I have a 100-year-old relationship with the people here,” Gandhi told supporters in Raebareli on May 17, flanked by his mother and sister Priyanka. “My home is in the hearts of the people of Raebareli and in the hearts of all Indians.”

With just 12 days of campaigning left for the remaining two phases of elections, political parties are organizing three to four rallies a day for their senior leaders. Voting in phase six of the election takes place on May 25, when voters in the capital Delhi go to the polls.

Voting also takes places in these key constituencies on Monday:

  • In Baramulla in Jammu & Kashmir, the former chief minister Omar Abdullah is contesting against two other regional parties. The BJP has chosen not to contest any of the three seats in the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir

  • In Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress party is fielding loyalist Kishori Lal Sharma to wrest control back from the BJP

  • Defense Minister Rajnath Singh will be contesting from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. He has been elected thrice to the lower house and has served three terms in the upper house of parliament

(Updates with average voter turnout in seventh paragraph.)

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