Indians vote early in fifth phase of polls to avoid blistering heat

By Reuters
May 21, 2024
A man uses a newspaper as others use umbrellas to protect themselves from the heat as they wait to vote outside a polling station during the fifth phase of India’s general election in Howrah district of the eastern state of West Bengal, India, May 20, 2024. — Reuters

MUMBAI/BHUBANESWAR: Indians voted on Monday in the fifth phase of mammoth general elections, with film actors and sports celebrities among the thousands who turned out early in a bid to avoid scorching afternoon heat in the financial hub of Mumbai.


Three hours before voting closed, about 48 percent of voters had cast ballots in Monday’s phase of the world’s largest election, which began on April 19, as weather officials warned of more days of heatwaves than usual through the torrid summer.

Votes will be counted on June 4, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi expected to win a rare third consecutive term. Voters at a polling station in a tiny lane in central Mumbai waited for hours in snaking queues that advanced slowly.

“It is claustrophobic and people are falling sick,” said housewife Shalini Pawar, 42, who queued for three hours. One woman nearly fainted in the heat, she added, calling for authorities to provide drinking water to those waiting.

Nearly a billion people are eligible to vote in India’s election, but after poor initial turnout in early phases, more exercised the franchise to take the average of the first four rounds to 66.95 percent, with 69 percent voting in the fourth phase on May 13.

Monday’s phase has the fewest constituencies going to the polls, with 89.5 million voters in 49 seats. High-profile candidates in the fray included trade minister Piyush Goyal, standing from one of six seats in Mumbai, and defence minister Rajnath Singh from Lucknow, both cities where there has been poor voter turnout in the past. On Sunday, the Election Commission specifically urged residents of both cities “to erase the stigma” of urban apathy.

Mumbai is also home to the Hindi film industry, popularly called Bollywood, where the voters included film stars such as Shah Rukh Khan, Deepika Padukone, Aamir Khan, Kareena Kapoor Khan and Ranveer Singh.