The competition during the campaign was fierce. So candidates did what they could to attract attention. Some were able to rely on their reputations. But others had to resort to different tactics to get their messages out.
This masked man looks like he’s trying to save someone in distress. But Gaurav Sharma is actually an independent candidate running in a constituency of Mumbai.
It’s an unusual way to campaign. But it works in a country where millions can’t read and many don’t have access to information.
Other candidates found different ways to get their message across and simplify complicated issues. India’s literacy rate is 74%, the lowest among G20 members. So this helps.
And so does this…Campaign goods and emblems. Parties and candidates choose symbols linked to their philosophies, so people can distinguish between them and vote accordingly.
The symbols play a crucial role at polling stations. Voters see them on electronic ballots. They just need to press the button next to the symbol to make their choice.
When they see this open, outward-facing hand, they think of the ruling Indian National Congress. The emblem is meant to show the party’s ideal of uniting religions and castes.
Congress has held power for more than 50 of the 66 years since independence. The face of its campaign is the descendant of the so-called Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, Rahul Gandhi, the party’s Vice-President.
His great-grandfather was Jawaharlal Nehru, the nation’s first prime minister.
His grandmother, Indira Gandhi, held the position two times during an 18 year period.
His father, Rajiv Gandhi, was also prime minister. Both Rajiv and Indira were assassinated.
Gandhi relied on his five-star name and his youth as he campaigned around the nation. He tried to come across as friendly. And he said he’d work hard to narrow India’s growing wealth and social gaps.
"The Congress Party inherits the philosophy of Indian history. That philosophy is inside every single Indian person."
Rahul Gandhi / Indian National Congress party
The largest opposition Bharatiya Janata Party or Indian People’s Party uses the lotus as its symbol, a popular icon of Hinduism. The BJP is pushing to get back in power for the first time in a decade.
Former BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister from 1998 to 2004. He openly declared India a nuclear power when he conducted underground nuclear tests at the beginning of his term.
Narendra Modi led the BJP charge this time around. Modi is Chief Minister of the western state of Gujarat. He says his economic success there shows he can change the entire country.
"Let’s replace the corrupt team with a dream team and bring progress to this nation."
Narendra Modi/ Bharatiya Janata Party
Modi emphasized his humble beginnings during the campaign.He used to work as a train station tea vendor.So his team organized events called tea parties to discuss issues with voters. It was a strategy for Modi to show he shares ordinary people’s concerns.
A newer political force also played up that angle. Aam Aadmi Party translates to the party of the common man. Its members use a broom as their symbol to show they’re committed to sweeping away corruption.
Leader Arvind Kejriwal is a civil servant turned anti-corruption activist. He helped set up the party in 2012. About a year later, it won more seats than Congress in the New Delhi assembly election. Kejriwal says established political parties are harming the nation.
"I want to offer an alternative to the two big parties, Congress or BJP."
Arvind Kejriwal / Aam Aadmi Party
Regional parties have been gaining more popularity across India in recent years.
Many Indians have watched the price of onions get higher and higher. The increased cost for this staple has put a major strain on household finances.
"The cost of vegetables has become higher than anything else. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to cope."
Deepak Bajaj and his wife are feeling the pinch. They have a two-year-old daughter. And they say they can no longer afford to provide three meals a day.
"We can’t save money anymore. We used to plan for our child’s future. But it’s hard to think of that now."
Bajaj works for a company that delivers water. His monthly income of 130 dollars is less than half of the average for residents of New Delhi. He says inflation has made him worse off.
He used to be a Congress supporter. He thought the Party would improve the economy. This time, he voted for the BJP.
"I’ve had enough of the Congress administration. I’m hoping for a change of power. I expect Narendra Modi to become prime minister and improve our livelihood."
The list of frustrations with the ruling party does not stop with the economy. Many are upset over the state of infrastructure, especially the water and electricity supply. Blackouts are common, causing problems for households and businesses.
Corruption scandals have also helped to drag down the Congress party’s support. One of the biggest involved the former telecommunications minister.
Andimuthu Raja is accused of selling mobile phone licenses to firms at a greatly reduced rate in exchange for bribes. Auditors estimate the scam cost the government as much as 40 billion dollars.
Voters who are dissatisfied with Congress are turning to Narendra Modi and the BJP.
"We, the Bharatiya Janata Party, will realize your dream, which is to address price increases and political corruption. With this election, we will bring victory to this country."
Narendra Modi / BJP
Some voters say the situation in the western state of Gujarat is proof Modi has what it takes to be a good leader.
He’s been chief minister there since 2001. He’s achieved annual double digit growth. Modi led the construction of railways and highways to connect urban and rural areas.
He also prioritized stabilizing the energy supply. He improved the transmission system and built one of the largest solar power generation facilities in Asia. Gujarat is now the only state in the country that doesn’t face chronic electricity shortages.
Better infrastructure has boosted production in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors.
More and more farmers in Gujarat are using electric- powered pumping systems to irrigate their fields. They make more from their cash crops, and their quality of life has improved.
"My income has gone up. It’s changed my life. I can now provide my child with a better education."
Modi’s policy to strengthen infrastructure helped lure domestic and foreign investment. And that created jobs.
He built several industrial complexes to attract manufacturers from abroad including those in Japan.
"Gujarat is investing heavily in infrastructure and that has made the state more attractive to us than any other."
Seiji Minami / Mitsubishi Heavy Industries India Private
But some Indians worry Hindu nationalism could grow if Modi took power. He considers Hinduism one of the pillars of Indian society. That worries many Muslims who make up about 10 percent of the population.
They often cite a bloody chapter in Gujarat’s history when they speak out against Modi. It started with a train fire that killed dozens of Hindu pilgrims. Muslims were blamed.
Hindu mobs went looking for revenge. More than 1000 people died in three days of riots, most of them Muslims. Critics accused Modi of not ordering security forces to intervene.
In the aftermath, state officials built a wall in Gujarat’s main city, Ahmedabad, to separate Hindu and Muslim residents.
Those on the Muslim side say they have to cope with substandard infrastructure while people on the Hindu side enjoy better living conditions.
"Other areas have paved roads and tap water. Modi has abandoned Muslims."
Asrar Baig Mirza / Ahmedabad municipal councilor
Some voters have expressed doubts about whether the BJP under Modi could keep India’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious society united. Rahul Gandhi of Congress argues the country would become unstable.
"I do not respond by turning people against one another. I do not respond by lighting the fires of communal hatred."
Rahul Gandhi / Congress party
But Modi disputes that just as he disputes claims he’s to blame for not stopping the violence more than a decade ago.
"The complaints about me are groundless. If such facts existed, even a little, I would be willing to submit myself to any kind of criticism."
Narendra Modi / BJP
India’s political landscape is multi-faceted and complex. Journalist Anil Padmanabhan joins us from New Delhi to help sort through the issues. He’s the editor of MINT, one of India’s major newspapers. And he’s covered politics and the economy extensively.
Fukushima Daiichi is located 230 kilometers northeast of Tokyo. Its first reactor started operating 43 years ago. TEPCO eventually added 5 others. Together, they were capable of producing 4.7 gigawatts of electricity. That's enough to power 14 million homes. The plant was one of the main sources of energy for the Tokyo metropolitan area.
The March 2011 disaster ended the plant's decades of service, and marked the beginning of an operation that will last decades more. Every day, three to four thousand workers are on the frontline of a mammoth effort to control the facility and prepare it for decommissioning. It's a hostile environment. Radiation levels are lethal in some places. And contaminated water builds up constantly.
As crews tackle the day-to-day challenges at the plant, a specialized team is involved in a delicate mission. It started removing about 3000 assemblies of spent nuclear fuel rods. The team is relocating the highly-radioactive bundles to a safer storage facility on site to protect them from future earthquakes.
The Fukushima Daiichi plant is laid out like this.
It's a 3.5 square kilometer site that faces the Pacific Ocean.
There are six reactors.
Numbers 5 and 6 were offline and did not suffer meltdowns.
Reactor 1 was the first to melt down after the accident. Then a hydrogen explosion damaged the building. Workers have put a giant cover over it to stop the spread of radioactive substances.
The nuclear fuel in reactor 2 also melted down. But there was no explosion. The building remains largely intact.
A meltdown and subsequent hydrogen explosion mangled the reactor 3 building. The structure still shows signs of damage even though workers have cleared away most of the debris from the top of it.
The reactor 4 building looks quite different from the others. The unit wasn't loaded with nuclear fuel at the time. So...no meltdown.
But an explosion still ripped through the structure, likely because hydrogen flowed in from the reactor 3 building. Crews raced to reinforce it to safeguard its spent fuel assemblies. It stored the largest number of assemblies among the 4 reactors.
A little ways inland from the reactor buildings, you can see rows of storage tanks for contaminated water. There are more than 1,000 of them. TEPCO officials are facing the logistical challenge of securing enough space to add more tanks. They want to double the number within two years.
The fuel inside the reactors is the source of the contamination.
The exact situation inside the units is unclear. High levels of radiation have prevented workers from carrying out a full survey. Newsline Focus has been looking into the state of the melted fuel. And based on discussions with TEPCO engineers and our research, we've created a detailed picture of the inside of reactor one and what happened there.
The building is about 60 meters tall. And the reactor core is at its center.
The core is a 20-meter long steel cylinder. It's surrounded by a containment vessel, which is essentially steel wrapped in thick concrete. That's meant to protect the core and isolate the nuclear fuel.
Play the video to see how the meltdown happened in reactor 1.
Radiation levels are extremely high around reactors 1, 2, and 3 because of the meltdowns. Levels are relatively low in reactor 4 building. So crews started decommissioning work here. But it's by no means easy or risk free. The mask must be strapped on very tightly to keep out contaminated air.
Along the road to the reactor 4 building, structures showing signs of damage from the time of the accident sat untouched.
Inside, specially-trained teams were working to remove spent fuel rod assemblies from a pool. The rods emit extremely high levels of radiation. They must remain submerged in water. Moving them from the pool to a protective container requires precision.
The heavy, protective gear makes the job harder. Even communication is not easy. So the workers discuss every detail of the operation in advance.
Just watching from the sidelines, I felt hot, thirsty and exhausted.
Outside, crews used heavy machinery to do everything from digging wells to building walls to stop the spread of contamination.
Workers also attend regular training sessions to keep them aware of the risks posed by radiation. Newcomers learn how to properly wear a mask and other protective gear. Minimizing worker exposure has been -- and will remain -- a major challenge.
Tetsuya Hayashi spent 50 days at Fukushima Daiichi in 2012. He says actual work is limited to 3 to 4 hours a shift because of the time it takes to put on protective gear and undergo radiation screenings. And that gear makes it much more difficult to get things done.
"I was told I should work 50% slower than on a normal job. Once I got started, I definitely understood why. The slightest move makes you feel like you're short on oxygen."
"We have to change at least two or three times a day, and our suits can't be reused. It means we're disposing of between 5,000 and 10,000 protective suits each day. We also wear double or triple layers of rubber globes, which are all thrown away. I don't know how many years this whole operation will take, but it will generate an incredible amount of radioactive waste."
One day, his supervisors asked him to go into an area with high levels of radiation. He refused and left his job.
"Radiation was so high, workers could only stay there for 5 or 10 minutes at most. I did not go. I knew someone had to do it but I couldn't."
TEPCO workers are using tanks to hold contaminated water, now more than 400,000 tons worth. They inject hundreds of tons of water into the three crippled reactors every day to cool melted fuel. It becomes highly contaminated. And it leaks from containment vessels and accumulates in the basements of reactor buildings.
On top of that, hundreds of tons of groundwater seeps into the site every day and also becomes tainted adding to the amount that needs to be stored.
Workers pump the toxic water into the tanks. One tank fills up in two and a half days. So crews are also building more of them to increase storage capacity.
In the past year, some of the tanks suffered major leaks, and each time TEPCO officials held a news conference to explain the situation.
Engineers are trying to filter out as many radioactive materials as possible from the water to minimize the impact on the environment in case of another leak.
They're using something called ALPS, short for Advanced Liquid Processing System. It can remove all radioactive particles except tritium.
But it's been dogged by frequent breakdowns.
Engineers are trying to find out how water is leaking from the reactor containment vessel. They've been exploring the containment vessel of reactor one. They used a small device designed like a boat to navigate a place where no human can go.
The project brought together nuclear experts from universities and the private sector.They had a budget of about 3 million dollars. They fitted the boat with a camera and a video transmitter. And they used a cable to control the device because radiation scrambles wireless signals.
Engineers planned their operation in response to the harsh environment of the reactor 1 building. They rotated in 15-minute shifts to minimize their exposure.
The engineers successfully placed the boat alongside the containment vessel. The device sent back a radiation reading of 2,000 millisieverts per hour. Anyone exposed to that would die in a few hours. The boat transmitted these images, showing water flowing down the side of the containment vessel.
The camera captured another leak nearby. Contaminated water was gushing out of a broken pipe.
Engineers are confident this type of device will prove useful as they continue to probe the reactors. But they know it is just one of many tools they'll need in the decommissioning process.
Researchers and engineers are now focused on designing robots that can do decontamination work. This device relies on a laser beam to evaporate radioactive substances. Then it uses a vacuum to collect the radioactive dust.
This model is designed to cut through the rubble that's scattered inside reactor buildings because of the explosions.
The most daunting challenge is removing extremely-radioactive nuclear fuel from the damaged reactors. TEPCO officials believe tons of molten fuel is on the bottom of reactor containment vessels. It's inaccessible and engineers are exploring ways to reach it. They're trying to develop a 30-meter-long robotic arm. The device will be equipped with sensors that allow engineers to visualize the arm's movements in 3 dimensions.
One institute is developing a laser for the robotic arm. Teams of engineers are working on one that can slice through nuclear fuel. They expect the fuel solidified after melting down. The laser will have to operate underwater. The reactors need to be constantly flooded to keep the fuel stable and shield radiation.
The institute ran an experiment to simulate the environment of a flooded reactor. The engineers injected gas into the water to clear a path for the laser so the beam wouldn't weaken. Then they aimed the laser at simulated fuel, and managed to cut some of it. But the fuel at Fukushima Daiichi is expected to be much more difficult to deal with. Some of it mixed with debris when it melted down, making it more difficult to cut through than the simulated fuel. Engineers don't fully understand the condition it's in.
"This is a huge challenge. We have to combine techniques in ways that we have never tested before. Some combinations will work. But in other cases, we will have to make fundamental adjustments."
Toshiharu Muramatsu / Japan Atomic Energy Agency
Fukushima residents who used to live in communities around the plant face an uncertain future. Many still cannot go home. Their future depends on a safe and steady decommissioning process.
Let's take a look at the roadmap for decommissioning Fukushima Daiichi. TEPCO and the government drew it up together.
Roadmap for Decommissioning the Plant
(2013 Fuel Removal)
They call the removal of spent fuel rods from the reactor 4 building the first milestone of the process. That operation began last November. It's expected to be finished by the end of this year. After that, the plan is to move on to the other 3 reactor buildings.
(By 2020 Spent Fuel Removal Completed)
The government and TEPCO want to finish removing the spent fuel rods and start extracting the melted fuel by 2020. That's the year Tokyo hosts the Olympics.
(2020 Melted Fuel Removal Starts)
Taking out that fuel is expected to require another 10 to 15 years.
(By 2051 Complete Decommissioning)
Then, crews will start dismantling the reactors. The estimated completion date for that job is 2051 at the latest 40 years after the accident.
But some experts say the entire decommissioning process will likely take longer. One of the major factors slowing things down is the constant build up of contaminated water.
Newsline will continue to bring you coverage of what's happening there in the months and years ahead.