Indian women cast their ballots at a polling station outside Hyderabad. Photo: Getty.
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Everything you need to know about India’s elections

On 16 May we'll know the results of the world’s biggest-ever elections – with 814m Indians voting over six weeks. What’s at stake?

On 16 May we’ll know the results of the world’s largest-ever election. 814 million people are eligible to vote in India’s elections, with voting carried out across the vast country over a six week period. The scale of the project is staggering: 11 million people have been deployed to help conduct the elections and 1.4 million electronic voting machines have been installed nationwide, all at an estimated cost of $600m to the Indian government.

So what do you need to know about what’s happening in the world’s largest democracy?

The three main candidates:

Narendra Modi (Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP))

Photo: Getty

In all likelihood, the Hindu nationalist candidate Narendra Modi will soon become India’s next prime minister. Modi’s rise to power has been both unlikely and impressive: the son of a tea-seller rose rapidly through the ranks of the RSS, a neo-Fascist paramilitary organisation with links to the BJP, gaining a reputation as a formidable organiser. Since 2001 he has been the chief minister of Gujarat, where he leaves a mixed-legacy.

On the one hand, he is credited with introducing pro-business reforms that have boosted the Gujarat economy. On the other, many (including Human Rights Watch) believe he was complicit in the 2002 riots in Gujarat that contributed to the death of at least 2000 Muslims and the displacement of many more. Although he denies responsibility, comments suggesting he regretted Muslims’ suffering as he would a “puppy being run over by a car” leave many fearful of his ability to unify India’s diverse, multi-sectarian population.

 

Rahul Gandhi (Congress)

Photo: Getty

Rahul Gandhi is the figurehead for Congress, the party of the current prime minister Manmohan Singh. Rahul Gandhi is Congress royalty: he is the son of the party leader Sonia Gandhi and is related to three former Indian prime ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. Other than that, Indians have found little to inspire them in the Gandhi princeling, and are doubtful as to Congress’s economic legacy in power.

 

Arvind Kejriwal (Aam Aadmi)

Photo: Getty

Arvind Kejriwal is the clear underdog in the race. The former taxman turned anti-corruption campaigner is running on a shoestring budget but with an anti-corruption campaign that resonates with disaffected middle-class Indians. After a surprise victory in Delhi's local elections, Kejriwal resigned after just 49 days as chief minister in Delhi in 2013 after failing to pass through his flagship policy of introducing an anti-graft ombudsman, and his protests stunts including hunger-strikes and rough sleeping divides popular opinion: is he a serious political player able to shake-up India’s murky politics from within, or is he more skilled as an activist agitating from the outside?

 

It’s the economy, stupid

Most commentators agree the key issue in this election is the Indian economy. Economic growth is slowing, and ordinary Indians face rising inflation. The country’s economic liberalisation programmes, started in the 1990s, supported the expansion of India’s middle class and a rising super-elite (India now has 56 billionaires) but according to the World Bank, India is still home to a third of the world’s poorest people, those who are surviving on less than 82p a day. 68.8 per cent  per cent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, and India is in the curious position that more of the population has access to a mobile phone than to a toilet.

A series of corruption scandals among India’s economic and political elite have only highlighted this lopsided economic growth, and contributed to discontent among the middle classes and poorer Indians. In a recent poll, 96 per cent of Indians said corruption was holding their country back, and 92 per cent thought it has got worse in the past five years, a sentiment that has helped fuel the rise of India’s third party.

 

Social change

Although India is still a largely rural population - 68 per cent of Indians live in rural areas, and around half the workforce is employed in agriculture, economic growth and a rising middle class has helped bring about social change. The protests over the 2012 gang rape of a student in Delhi highlighted both the scale of violence against women in the country, the state of women’s rights and the potential power of mass protests. Women’s turnout has steadily increased over recent elections, and a recent poll has suggested that 75 per cent of men and women participating in the election believe the political promises made to advocate women’s rights have been inadequate so far. In the 2009 elections just 11 per cent of parliamentary seats were held by women. 

Last month the Supreme Court in India has issued a new law allowing transgender people to change their gender on official documents to reflect their gender identity. This is the first election in which India’s transgender community are able to mark their gender as “other” on their ballot forms – a move that many hope is a first step towards greater economic empowerment and social recognition.

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

Police in Tahrir Square. Image: Getty.
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The murder of my friend Giulio Regeni is an attack on academic freedom

We are grieving – but above all, we are furious about the manner of his death.

The body of Giulio Regeni was discovered in a ditch in Cairo on February 2, showing evidence of torture, and a slow and horrific death. Giulio was studying for a PhD at the University of Cambridge, and was carrying out research on the formation of independent trade unions in post-Mubarak Egypt. There is little doubt that his work would have been extremely important in his field, and he had a career ahead of him as an important scholar of the region.

Giulio, originally from Fiumicello in north-east Italy, had a strong international background and outlook. As a teenager, he won a scholarship that allowed him to spend two formative years studying at the United World College in New Mexico. He was especially passionate about Egypt. Before beginning his doctoral research, he spent time in Cairo working for the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO). At the age of 28, he stood out with his big hopes and dreams, and he was committed to pursuing a career that would allow him to make an impact on the world, which is a poorer place for his passing.

Those of us who worked and spent time with him are grieving – but above all, we are furious about the manner of his death. While murder and torture are inherently of concern, Giulio’s case also has much broader implications for higher education in the UK and beyond.

Giuli Regeni. Image: provided by the author.

British universities have long fostered an outward-looking and international perspective. This has been evident in the consistent strength of area studies since the middle of the 20th century. The fact that academics from British universities have produced cutting-edge research on so many areas of the world is an important factor in the impact and esteem that the higher education system there enjoys.

In order to carry out this research, generations of scholars have carried out fieldwork in other countries, often with authoritarian political systems or social unrest that made them dangerous places in which to study. I carried out such research in Peru in the 1990s, working there while the country was ruled by the authoritarian government of Alberto Fujimori.

Alongside this research tradition, universities are becoming increasingly international in their outlook and make up. Large numbers of international students attend the classes, and their presence is crucial for making campuses more vibrant and diverse.

Giulio’s murder is a clear and direct challenge to this culture, and it demands a response. If our scholars – especially our social scientists – are to continue producing research with an international perspective, they will need to carry out international fieldwork. By its nature, this will sometimes involve work on challenging issues in volatile and unstable countries.

Universities clearly have a duty of care to their students and staff. This is generally exercised through ethics committees, whose work means that much greater care is taken than in the past to ensure that risks are managed appropriately. However, there is the danger that overly zealous risk management could affect researchers’ ability to carry out their work, making some important and high-impact research simply impossible.

Time for action

We cannot protect against all risks, but no scholar should face the risk of extrajudicial violence from the authorities. If universities are to remain internationally focused and outward-looking, we must exercise our duty of care towards our students and colleagues when they are working in other countries.

But there are limits to what academic institutions can do on their own. It is vital that governments raise cases such as Giulio’s, and push strongly for full investigations and for those responsible to be held to account.

The Italian and Egyptian authorities have announced a joint investigation into what happened to Giulio, but the British government also has a responsibility to make representations to this effect. That would send the message that any abuse by authorities of students and researchers from British universities will not be tolerated.

A petition will be circulated to this effect, and Giulio’s friends and colleagues will be campaigning on the issue in the days and weeks ahead.

Giulio Regeni’s murder is a direct challenge to the academic freedom that is a pillar of our higher education system. He is only one of many scholars who have been arbitrarily detained, and often abused, in Egypt. As a scholarly community and as a society, we have a duty to strike to protect them and their colleagues who study in dangerous places the world over.

 

Neil Pyper is an Associate Head of School at Coventry University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.