India goes to polls in biggest voting day

Over 195 million voters will have their say to decide out of 1,762 candidates.

Aditi Phadnis/afp April 17, 2014
A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Ajmer district in the desert Indian state of Rajasthan April 17, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI: India hosts its biggest day of voting in its marathon election, with 121 out of 543 seats LokSabha, or Lower House, of Parliament going to the polls Thursday.

The Nehru-Gandhi dynasty will battle to save the ruling Congress party from defeat to opposition Hindu nationalist leader Narendra Modi.

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Over 195 million voters will decide out of 1,762 candidates in the largest single day of polling in the over month-long election which ends May 12, with results due on May 16.

The key day comes after India's most famous family cranked up the rhetoric in a bid to claw back support from Modi, saying the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate was a threat to the nation's secular foundations.

The Nehru-Gandhi clan, which has dominated the country since independence from Britain in 1947, has emerged fighting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, daughter Priyanka and son Rahul all on the campaign trail.

Surveys have suggested Congress, under Rahul's leadership, is heading for a crushing defeat at the hands of the right-wing BJP.

Voting will be held in all 28 constituencies of Karnataka, which gave BJP its first government, in one go. The re-induction of BS Yeddyurappa and B Sree Ramulu caused a vertical rift in the party and the BJP will have to find out if it was worth bringing them in.

Rajasthan, a desert state which Narendra Modi visited several times, will see voting for 25 seats.

Voting will take place in 19 seats in Maharastra while Uttar Pradesh will see voting in 11 constituencies.

Polling will be held for 11 seats in Odishi, where BJP poses a serious threat to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik.

Seven seats are going to the polls in Bihar and the influence of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan will be put to the test in Madhya Pradesh as 10 seats go to the polls.

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Sonia, 67, the left-leaning Congress party matriarch, told voters Modi would rip India's secular fabric, accusing him of representing a "dangerous combination of religious fanaticism, power and money".

Sonia's daughter, Priyanka, 42, seen as the most gifted politician of India's so-called "first family" which has given the country three premiers, said Modi would spread divisions between the majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities.

"The ideology of Congress is to unite people and maintain the unity of the country while that of the opposition is to divide," she said.

Priyanka has strongly taken up the torch for India's secular identity, accusing her estranged cousin Varun Gandhi, a BJP candidate, of "betrayal" of the family heritage in a headline-making feud this week.

Rahul, 43, has accused Modi of displaying "anger and arrogance".

Modi's Hindu nationalist rhetoric and failure to swiftly curb 2002 deadly anti-Muslim riots that swept Gujarat state when he was chief minister have stirred worries among critics about his ability to maintain secular peace.

The BJP leader has never been found guilty by official investigations of any wrongdoing over the riots in which at least 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, died.

Modi, 63, struck back late Wednesday at the Gandhi family's attacks, saying it was their "obsession to pull Modi down".

"But Modi does not lose, does not die," he said, referring to himself in the third person, according to local media.

He rejected demands he apologise for the riots, saying he committed no crime.

"If I am guilty, hang me in the street square," he said.

He added Muslims in the Hindu city of Varanasi where he is seeking a parliamentary seat "love me when they meet me".

Modi, who has declared only he can revive India's sagging economy, said the BJP would score its "best" victory while the "useless and corrupt" Congress faced its "worst" defeat.

An opinion poll by NDTV network this week forecast the BJP would win 226 seats and with its coalition allies grab over 50 percent of the constituencies.

Voters have turned against Congress over massive graft scandals, spiralling inflation and the sharp economic slowdown, polls indicate.

Premier Manmohan Singh, 81, a respected economist handpicked by Sonia after she returned Congress to power following a nearly decade-long stint in the political wilderness, has been portrayed in a new book by his ex-press aide as a powerless puppet.

Congress said the decision to wheel out Sonia and Priyanka, who easily outshines her more awkward brother Rahul, was part of an earlier mapped strategy but analysts say it smacks of desperation.


Sridhar | 7 years ago | Reply

Pakistanis must learn from India's elections. It is, simply put, the greatest election in sheer numbers. And it is done in the most transparent and honest way. Politicians do not drop from heaven. They are what people elect. As people become more educated, politically savvy, they know what is true and what is "bluff". Congress has been living the "bluff" that it is secular. Most of the riots have happened during congress (mis)rule. It is now a party solely dependent on the Gandhi family, with a intellectually challenged person heading that family and wanting to be the PM of India. People are not stupid. Muslims of India have to wake up and join the mainstream. They have lived a "ghetto" existence for long. Educated people and those who are in the mainstream (people like MJ Akbar) know the reality. Modi is not a devil. His main agenda is economic. He will not deviate from it. We live in times when media is very powerful. A Modi under intense scrutiny of the media will not be able to put any "hindutva"agenda into practice. So, the talks about "ram mandir", "single civil code" are something for the muslims to ponder over but Modi will have little time for these as the PM. It is time India trashed this congress under the Gandhis. The only Gandhi worth respecting was and is the Mahatma. Rest are just plain humbugs.

Mohan | 7 years ago | Reply

@muhammad iqbal: Don't spread lies as always.Modi is a great and honest leader. Thieves will always afraid cops applicable in your case but good citizens not.

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