India's security challenges shape society and politics
As the world's largest democracy goes to the polls, it faces many social and security challenges. Here is a breakdown of the major issues that politicians will have to negotiate after the votes have been counted.
The caste system is an ancient social hierarchy that still influences social norms in India. It is technically outlawed by the Indian constitution, but political parties often take advantage of caste differences. Low-caste Dalits comprise 15-20% of India's population. Many political parties claim to stand for Dalit rights, although attempts at social reform often fade once leaders are elected.
Although India is a secular state, Hindus and Muslims clash over several issues. Under the current government, fringe groups have often invoked India's Islamic history and the consumption of beef as a reason to instigate violence against low-caste Hindus and Muslims. Pictured here are members of a right-wing Hindu group calling for a temple to be built on the former site of a mosque.
Violence in Kashmir
India and Pakistan both claim the Kashmir region in full but rule it in part. Since 1947, they have fought three wars over the region. Since 1989, separatist groups have been fighting Indian forces in India-administered Kashmir. The latest attack, in February 2019, unleashed new tension between the neighbors. Critics accused Indian PM Modi of using the incident for political gain.
Left-wing Maoist rebels in India's tribal areas accuse the government of selling off land belonging to indigenous tribes. Under a banner of social injustice, they form militias and attack state security forces and political leaders. Rebels often disrupt elections with attacks. On Tuesday, rebels killed a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator in rural Chhattisgarh state with a roadside bomb.
Demographic tension in the northeast
For decades, India's northeastern states have dealt with illegal immigration. In Assam state last year, a citizenship list reportedly excluded 4 million people who were unable to provide valid documents. In January, a bill that would grant immigrant Hindus citizenship in Assam unleashed protest and was criticized by local politicians as a political ploy by the BJP to boost its Hindu voter base.
Border dispute with China
China lays claim to parts of eastern India, and the two countries had a border standoff in 2017 over Chinese road construction. Nevertheless, Indian PM Modi has wanted to replicate China's model of development for India. But despite China's rising influence, relations with Beijing are not an election issue, at least not for Modi who prefers to ride on nationalist sentiments.
India's suffering farmers
India's farmers have long suffered from sinking crop prices and plummeting agricultural growth. Last year, after thousands of farmers demonstrated in New Dehli, PM Modi announced new schemes for the rural sector in his 2019 election manifesto. However, analysts say farmers feel betrayed by Modi's government and this could damage him politically.