India election 2019: latest updates

By Helen Regan, Nikhil Kumar, Manveena Suri, Sugam Pokharel, Swati Gupta and Steve George, CNN
10:30 p.m. ET, April 30, 2019
12:33 a.m. ET, April 11, 2019

Key election battleground: Uttar Pradesh

The northern state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) is where Indian elections are won and lost.

At 200 million, it is India's most populous state, and if it were a country it would be the fifth largest on the planet. Due to the state's size, voting is spread across several stages, the first beginning in western UP on April 11.

It also accounts for 80 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, making winning the state key to forming a national government.

In the 2014 election, the BJP won 71 of those seats, compared to just 2 for Congress, which will have to perform much better this time around if it hopes to form a national government.

The BJP stormed state-level elections in UP in 2017, but last year at local elections in other parts of the country, incumbent BJP governments were kicked out of power.

BJP-appointed UP chief minister and Hindu religious leader Yogi Adityanath is a divisive figure, known for his provocative rhetoric against Muslims. Adityanath's hardline religious bonafides may pay off with the state's largely Hindu population, but equally he could be symbolic of the type of Hindu nationalism that has turned off some voters from Modi's party.

People line up to vote at a polling station during India's general election in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh on April 11, 2019. 

12:00 a.m. ET, April 11, 2019

Voting begins!

Voting has started in parts of India, as the month-long election process gets underway.

Polls opened Thursday in 91 constituencies, including in Hyderabad, in the southern state of Telangana. The photo above shows a woman in the city having her finger marked with indelible ink after casting ballot.

People line up to vote at a polling station during India's general election in Cooch Behar, West Bengal on April 11, 2019.

A woman casts her vote in West Bengal, among the first ballots cast in India's 2019 general election.

11:23 p.m. ET, April 10, 2019

India's massive election, explained

India heads to the polls today, for the world's biggest exercise in democracy. And out of a total of 900 million eligible voters, a staggering 84.3 million -- including 15 million aged 18 or 19 -- will be casting ballots for the first time.

In many ways, the election is set to be a referendum on the leadership of incumbent Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is seeking a second term. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) scored a massive landslide in 2014, but its fortunes are looking shakier this time around.

Just catching up? Here's everything you need to know.

What are people voting for?

Around 900 million eligible voters will be electing 543 members of the country's lower house of parliament, the Lok Sabha.

Whichever party or coalition wins more than 272 seats in the Lok Sabha will go on to form a government, with the leader of the biggest party typically becoming Prime Minister.

Who are the main parties?

While there are a host of parties and candidates across the country, the only two with a real chance of leading the next government are the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Indian National Congress Party.

BJP leader Narendra Modi has been India's Prime Minister since 2014 and his party is currently the largest in parliament.

Congress has historically dominated Indian politics, but at the 2014 election the party only won 44 seats, down from 206 in the previous election.

What's the process and how long does it take?

India likes to boast that it is the world's largest democracy -- but that level of organization takes time.

Millions of election officials will be running the more than 1 million polling stations around the country, with voting take place in seven stages between April 11 and May 19:

  • April 11: 91 seats
  • April 18: 97 seats
  • April 23: 115 seats
  • April 29: 71 seats
  • May 6: 51 seats
  • May 12: 59 seats (including New Delhi)
  • May 19: 59 seats

Votes are cast via a battery-powered electronic voting machine, which the country's Election Commission assures is non-hackable and protected against sabotage.

After they have cast their ballot, voters' fingers are marked with indelible ink to prevent them voting again.

When will we know the result?

After almost a month of voting, election officials will begin counting ballots on the morning of May 23. Counting continues until it is finished, but we should have a good idea of who is the biggest party by around 12 p.m. that day.

That party may be able to form a government if it has enough seats. If it doesn't, it could come together with other, smaller parties to pass the 272 seat margin.

Those negotiations could take a long time, especially if the vote is extremely close and both of the main parties -- BJP and Congress -- have a decent chance of building a governing coalition.

6:24 a.m. ET, April 10, 2019

Electoral Commission halts Narendra Modi biopic

By CNN's Manveena Suri

In the film, Modi is played by Indian actor Vivek Oberoi.

The Election Commission of India was halting the release of a controversial Bollywood biopic of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The move comes less than a week after the film's producers announced its release was postponed after it failed to get a censor’s certificate in time.

In an order issued Wednesday, the ECI states that complaints claimed that “such creative contents are a kind of surrogate publicity by the candidate or the political party”.

It added that “any biopic material in the nature of biography/hagiography subserving the purposes of any political entity or any individual entity connected to it, which is intended to, or which has the potential to disturb the level playing field during the elections, should not be displayed in electronic media including cinematograph during the operation of the Model Code of Conduct.”

The movie, in which the prime minister is played by Indian actor Vivek Oberoi, depicts moments throughout Modi's life, including him selling tea on the railways as a child, his two-year spiritual stint in the Himalayas as a teen and leading the Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to a landslide victory at the polls in 2014.

Last month, the main opposition Congress Party slammed the release of the movie, labelling it propaganda and suggesting its forthcoming release contravenes the country’s election laws.

In a petition to the Commission, the Congress Party demanded the release be delayed until after the country’s elections, which kick off on April 11 and will last for about six weeks.

Modi's BJP has distanced itself from the film, saying “independent artists, influenced by the lifestyle of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, created the film but the BJP is in no way involved in it. There is no content related to the election which can be banned under the model code of conduct,” as reported by CNN affiliate, News 18.

In India, any material that serves as a political advertisement is banned during the weeks leading up to an election, unless it is approved by the Election Commission.

5:19 a.m. ET, April 10, 2019

Rahul Gandhi files nomination to run in Amethi, center of family dynasty

By CNN's Manveena Suri

Rahul Gandhi, president of India’s main opposition Congress party, has filed his nomination to contest the elections from the district of Amethi, in northern Uttar Pradesh state.

Hundreds of supporters lined the streets on Wednesday to greet Gandhi and his sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who took on a formal role within the party earlier this year.

Amethi is considered the home constituency of the Gandhi-Nehru political dynasty. In the 2014 elections, Gandhi won the seat with a margin of more than 100,000 votes.

Gandhi is the son of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. His grandmother, Indira, was India’s first female leader, and his great grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was the country’s founding Prime Minister.

Gandhi has represented the constituency for three consecutive terms since his first election in 2004. The Congress announced last month that Gandhi would contest from Amethi as well as Wayanad in southern Kerala state, for which he filed his nomination last week.  

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s Smriti Irani, India’s minister for textiles, is Gandhi’s main opposition in Amethi.

6:07 p.m. ET, April 9, 2019

Local politician and four others killed in bomb attack in central India

From CNN’s Sugam Pokharel

Five people, including a local politician from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), were killed in a bomb attack in central India on Tuesday, according to police.

The deceased politician, Bhima Mandavi, a state legislator from the Chhattisgarh state legislative assembly, was returning from an election rally when the convoy came under attack in Dantewada district of the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh by suspected Maoist rebels, police say.

The other four who died were security personnel accompanying the politician, assistant superintendent of police Chandramohan Singh told CNN. "There were three vehicles in the convoy. It was an IED attack followed by an ambush," Singh added.

Condemning the attack, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: "Strongly condemn the Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh. My tributes to the security personnel who were martyred."

"The sacrifices of these martyrs will not go in vain. Shri Bhima Mandavi was a dedicated Karyakarta of the BJP. Diligent and courageous, he assiduously served the people of Chhattisgarh," Modi added. "His demise is deeply anguishing. Condolences to his family and supporters. Om Shanti."

5:55 a.m. ET, April 8, 2019

Pakistan accuses India of planning 'new aggression'

From CNN's Euan McKirdy

Pakistan's foreign minister says the government has "reliable intelligence" that India was planning an attack next week -- claims its nuclear neighbor immediately dismissed as "irresponsible and preposterous."

In remarks on Pakistan's state broadcaster PTV Sunday, Shah Mehmood Qureshi said India was plotting a "new aggression" between April 16 and 20.

Qureshi said Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had given his armed forces the green light for attacking targets both in Kashmir and Pakistan.

"He (Modi) says that you have permission to carry out action. They (heads of armed forces) say, 'We have selected targets which are of a military nature. And it is not essential that those targets would be limited to Kashmir ... So, a new talk of military action is going on there And a new message about a military action is being given out," he said.

India's Ministry of External Affairs said the claims were baseless, accusing Qureshi of encouraging Pakistan-based militants to attack targets in India.

"India rejects the irresponsible and preposterous statement by the Foreign Minister of Pakistan intended to whip up war hysteria in the region. This public gimmick appears to be a call to Pakistan-based terrorists to undertake a terror attack in India," spokesman Raveesh Kumar said. 

Read more on the story here.

1:30 a.m. ET, April 9, 2019

Modi vows to double farmer incomes as BJP releases election manifesto

From CNN's Manveena Suri

Modi addresses supporters during a campaign rally ahead of the national elections in Cooch Behar, in West Bengal state, on April 7.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has released a manifesto containing 75 election promises -- just three days to go before India heads to the polls.

Speaking at the “Sankalp Patra” -- or Document of Resolution -- launch on Monday, Modi said: "Nationalism is our inspiration. Empowerment of the marginalized is our vision. Good governance is our mantra.

"We spent the last term fulfilling needs of common Indians. Now our goal is to fulfill aspirations of common Indians."

Here are the key pledges:

Doubling farmers' incomes

The BJP pledged to invest almost $360 billion to develop rural areas. In addition, the party said it would double the income of farmers by 2022. A pension will also be provided to small and marginal farmers over the age of 60. 

Nation first

Along with a zero-tolerance approach to terrorism and strengthening the military, the BJP vowed the the controversial Citizenship Amendment Bill would be passed and implemented. The bill is aimed at helping Hindus and other minorities move to India from neighboring Muslim-majority countries. The BJP says it offers Indian citizenship to religious minorities fleeing persecution -- however opponents insist it is anti-Muslim.

The BJP also reiterated its commitment to annulling Article 35A, a constitutional provision that enables northern Jammu and Kashmir state to have its own constitution, flag and autonomy over all matters except foreign affairs, defense and communications. Only permanent residents also have the right to own property in the state. The BJP argues this is discriminatory against non-permanent residents.

India as the world’s third-largest economy

The BJP envisages the Indian economy will be worth $5 trillion by 2022 -- and $10 trillion by 2032. Along with boosting investment and trade, the BJP promised to lower tax rates and simplify the Goods and Services Tax process.  

Other pledges included better access to healthcare and education, clean drinking water for all Indians and infrastructure development across a range of sectors.

Congress party responds

India’s main opposition Congress party responded to the launch of the BJP’s manifesto with a series of tweets highlighting what it described as the shortcomings of the Modi government’s promises.

Comparing the cover images of both party’s manifestos, Congress tweeted: “the people of our country are important for us. For Modi, it’s his own face. Our manifesto contains the views of tens of millions of people in the country whereas the BJP manifesto is about one person’s perspective.”

 Rahul Gandhi, president of India’s main opposition Congress Party, dismissed the manifesto as "short sighted and arrogant" in a tweet.

5:35 a.m. ET, April 5, 2019

Release of Narendra Modi biopic postponed

From CNN's Manveena Suri

The release of a biopic of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been postponed, filmmakers said.

Sandip Singh, producer of “PM Narendra Modi”, announced on Twitter on Thursday that the movie would not come out on April 5 as planned.

He didn't give a reason for the delay, only saying that he would provide an update "soon."

However, Singh's tweet comes after the movie's producers failed to get a censor’s certificate on time.

Speaking to the Press Trust of India (PTI), Prasoon Joshi, chairperson of India’s Central Board of Film Certification, said the process to issue the movie a certification was still underway.

“Since there are a lot of queries around the certification of the film, I would like to give a clear picture: the film is going through the due process of examination and certification according to the requisite guidelines and is yet to be certified as the process is not complete at this point,” Joshi told PTI.

Last month, the main opposition Congress Party slammed the release of the Bollywood movie, labeling it propaganda and suggesting its forthcoming release contravenes the country’s election laws.

In a petition to the Election Commission, the Congress demanded that the release be delayed until after the country’s elections, which begin on April 11 and will last for about six weeks.

In India, any material that serves as a political advertisement is banned during the weeks leading up to an election, unless it is approved by the Election Commission.

The movie, in which the prime minister is played by Indian actor Vivek Oberoi, depicts Modi’s rise to fame, including him selling tea on the railways as a child, his two-year spiritual stint in the Himalayas as a teen and leading the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party to a landslide victory at the polls in 2014.