India's PM Narendra Modi tags Bollywood stars, cricketers and politicians in a torrent of tweets, urging them to inspire people to vote in upcoming general elections. Meanwhile, opposition Congress promises jobs for women if it is voted to power.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched an early-morning Twitter blitz on Wednesday calling directly on Bollywood and sports stars and others to urge Indians to vote in the country's upcoming mammoth elections.
In 29 rapid-fire tweets, Modi tagged cricketers Virat Kohli, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Bollywood actors Ranveer Singh and Vicky Kaushal, asking them to inspire others to exercise their franchise in the world's largest democracy.
"Dear @msdhoni, @imVkohli and @ImRo45. You are always setting outstanding records on the cricketing field but this time, do inspire the (1.3 billion) people of India to set a new record of high voter turnout in the upcoming elections," one message ran.
"When this happens, democracy will be the winner!"
Dear @msdhoni, @imVkohli and @ImRo45,— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 13, 2019
You are always setting outstanding records on the cricketing field but this time, do inspire the 130 crore people of India to set a new record of high voter turnout in the upcoming elections.
When this happens, democracy will be the winner!
Modi, 68, swept his right-wing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power in 2014, forming the country's first majority government in almost three decades.
But despite remaining popular, he faces a challenge to repeat the feat when India's 900 million voters cast ballots between April 11 and May 19.
The opposition says Modi's flagship policies have failed to produce promised jobs, while thousands of debt-ridden farmers have committed suicide in recent years.
His party, however, seems to have gained ground after India launched air strikes on Pakistan last month in response to a suicide bombing that killed over 40 Indian troops in disputed Kashmir.
I appeal to @RahulGandhi, @MamataOfficial, @PawarSpeaks, @Mayawati, @yadavakhilesh, @yadavtejashwi and @mkstalin to encourage increased voter participation in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. A high turnout augurs well for our democratic fabric.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 13, 2019
Results from the election are due May 23.
Congress wooing women
The Opposition Congress party will reserve a third of federal government jobs for women if it comes into power, its chief Rahul Gandhi said on Wednesday, in a sign women's rights are rising up the political agenda for next month's election.
Over the last week, two powerful parties from eastern India said they would field women in a third of parliamentary races, putting pressure on BJP and other big parties to follow suit.
India ranks at 149 out of 193 countries – worse than neighbouring Afghanistan, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Pakistan – for the percentage of women in national parliaments, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, an independent organisation promoting democracy.
"... Frankly, I don't see enough women in leadership positions. I don't see them leading enough companies, I don't see them leading enough states, I don't see enough of them in the Lok Sabha [lower house] and the Vidhan Sabhas [state assemblies]," Gandhi said in the southern city of Chennai, referring to India's lower house of parliament and state legislatures.
Reservation for women in assemblies
Federal government jobs in India are already subject to numerous quotas, including one passed in January that reserves 10 percent of openings for people outside high income brackets.
Gandhi also said that Congress would pass the Women's Reservation Bill this year if it came to power.
The bill, which reserves 33 percent of the seats in national and state assemblies for women, has been on hold for two decades despite being championed by Congress and the BJP at different points.
The BJP, which says it has empowered women through nationwide schemes including clean fuel and sanitation, questioned how the Congress jobs plan would be implemented.
"For how many generations have people talked about reservation in party positions, reservation for elections, reservation in jobs? But it doesn't seem to happen," BJP spokesperson Shaina NC said.
There are currently 66 women out of a total 543 elected members in India's lower house of parliament. At 12 percent, this is the highest ever proportion of women in the Lok Sabha.
Women make up nearly half of all voters in the country of 1.3 billion people, according to the Election Commission of India.
Based on recent state polls, women will likely head to voting stations in droves for the elections due by May, surpassing male turnout, analysts predict.