Ahead of Varanasi: Election campaign ends with clashing visions

Both BJP, Congress muster a final show of strength during the final leg of election.


May 10, 2014
Congress Party Vice-President Rahul Gandhi gestures to supporters from atop a truck as he makes his way through the streets of Varanasi during the final day of campaigning in the elections. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI:


Ruling Congress party frontman Rahul Gandhi warned Saturday of an India divided by caste and creed if the Hindu nationalist opposition wins power, as campaigning ended ahead of the last round of voting in the nation’s multi-stage election.


Gandhi, scion of India’s most famous political dynasty, sought to muster a final show of strength in the holy Hindu city of Varanasi with the party struggling to snatch victory from the jaws of a widely forecast defeat by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP “only wants to divide people, make people fight each other”, Gandhi told a rally in Varanasi, one of the last constituencies due to vote in Monday’s final day of balloting.

The city has become a focus of national attention with two star candidates -- one of them Narendra Modi, a charismatic but controversial figure tipped to lead the BJP to power and become prime minister.

The other is anti-corruption campaigner Arvind Kejriwal who vaulted to national prominence as leader of the Aam Aadmi Party. Kejriwal said he was confident of “a huge majority” in the temple-studded city.

Even though Congress -- running a local candidate -- is given little chance in Varanasi, the broader national battle is between the party, which Gandhi’s family has steered since 1947, and BJP.



The two parties engaged in a last campaign duel with Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi deriding what the Hindu nationalists have called a “tsunami of support” for Modi as “a chimera”.

“The BJP is fast discovering that its estimates are nothing but guesses,” Singhvi told reporters. Results of the election that began in early April will be known on Friday.

BJP leader Rajnath Singh fired back, telling a news conference voters are “eager to be rid of the Congress”.

Modi launched a blistering attack Saturday on the Gandhi family. The 63 year old mocked Gandhi and his party president mother, Sonia, as the “mother-son government” and appealed for a “good, strong mandate in Delhi to work for the people”, wagging his finger in a gesture now familiar to the nation.

“Till the time you end these dynastic politics, things won’t improve,” Modi said to cheers in Robertsganj, another constituency voting Monday in the pivotal state of Uttar Pradesh.

Top party organiser Amit Shah said the electorate had supported the BJP “irrespective of caste (and) religion”, seeking to dispel notions Modi’s muscular Hindu nationalism was a stumbling block.

Meanwhile, the Gandhi family made a last-ditch push with Rahul, his mother and sister, Priyanka, all on the hustings.

On Saturday, Rahul, 43, reaffirmed Congress’s commitment to “empowering the poor”, charging a BJP government would not “benefit anyone but business”.

Who will make the magic 272 number?

Investors, confident of a BJP win, have driven shares to record highs. Few observers, though, expect the BJP to reach the magic 272 number needed for a parliamentary majority by itself.

Many anticipate fierce bargaining as regional heavyweights trade parliamentary support for political concessions.

Rahul, groomed for the party’s leadership by his mother, has been dubbed the “reluctant crown prince”, preferring a backroom role. Local media has judged his campaign performance uninspiring.

Priyanka, 42, regarded as more politically talented, has strongly attacked the BJP and called the election a “fight for the heart” of Hindu-majority but constitutionally secular India.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2014.

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