India holds first major state elections since pandemic

PATNA, India: Voting began Wednesday in India’s third-largest state of Bihar, the first major election in the country since the pandemic and a test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity as he faces criticism on many fronts.

India has registered nearly 8 million confirmed coronavirus cases, behind only the United States, even as daily infections have fallen by about half and deaths by about a third in recent weeks. More than 120,010 people have died.

The eastern Bihar state, with a population of 122 million people, has reported more than 200,000 cases and there are concerns over a surge in infections during the elections. More than 70 million voters are eligible to cast ballots for 243 assembly seats and polling is divided into three phases.

Nearly 21 million voters are registered for the first phase on Wednesday. The results will be declared on Nov. 10.

India’s Election Commission has taken a series of measures in its effort to halt the spread of the virus. It has increased the number of polling stations, extended the voting time by one hour at most places and sanitization of electronic voting machines has been made mandatory. Authorities will also conduct temperature checks at entry points and voters will be provided hand sanitizers, soap and water.

Initially, political campaigning was replaced with virtual rallies, but soon political parties drew tens of thousands of largely bare-faced supporters, raising fears cases could jump and strain the state’s critically underfunded and weak health care system. - AP _length_with_data_reduction_proxy