AHMEDABAD: Indian frontrunner for prime minister Narendra Modi predicted defeat for the Gandhi political dynasty as he voted Wednesday in his home state in the latest stage of the country’s mammoth elections.
Voters queued early in 89 constituencies across nine states and territories for the latest stage of staggered voting in the world’s biggest election which ends with results announced on May 16.
Modi, a Hindu nationalist hardliner, voted in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat state before taking a “selfie” of his inked finger and flashing his party’s symbol of the lotus flower to cheering crowds.
“After analysing the election process and the voter’s mind until now, I can say that this time nothing can save the mother-son government... a strong government will come to power,” said Modi dressed in all white.
“All citizens have to take part in the festival and make the democracy stronger,” he added.
Modi, 63, immediately ran into trouble with the Election Commission over his actions which were televised live, accusing him of violating a code of conduct by campaigning in a polling area.
The scandal-plagued Congress party, headed by Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul, is widely expected to lose to Modi’s resurgent opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after a decade in power.
With the Congress campaign flailing with just over two weeks to go, another Gandhi, Rahul’s sister Priyanka, has stepped up to lead a fightback by India’s most famed political dynasty.
Priyanka this week called the battle against Modi and the BJP a “fight for the heart” of Hindu-majority but constitutionally secular India as the campaign grows increasingly bitter.
Modi is a popular but deeply polarising figure due to his Hindu nationalist rhetoric and failure to swiftly curb deadly 2002 anti-Muslim riots that swept Gujarat during his early years as chief minister of the prosperous western state. About 140 million people were eligible to vote on Wednesday including in Modi’s Gujarat and the battleground states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh which alone sends 80 lawmakers to India’s 543-member parliament.
Voters outside polling booths in a Hindu-dominated area of Ahmedabad said they would cast their ballots for Modi, the son of a tea-stall owner who is pledging jobs, investment and economic revival.
“He has brought development to Gujarat and generated ample employment for youth here. He can do the same across India,” said marketing executive Mrunal Panchal, 29.
In a mainly Muslim area of the city, voters said they would turn to Congress and anti-corruption campaigners the Aam Aadmi party, claiming the BJP was biased against the religious minority.
“I cannot tell you, but it was certainly not the BJP,” said Salim Qureshi, 33, who works in a butcher’s shop, when asked who he voted for.
Security was tight in Srinagar, the main city of disputed northern Indian Kashmir, where separatist leaders have called for a poll boycott and militants have threatened violence against voters who cast their ballots.
Hundreds of police and paramilitaries patrolled Srinagar’s streets, which were mostly deserted except for a handful of voters.
More than 500 residents and separatist leaders were rounded up ahead of voting in the region, where militants have been fighting Indian forces since 1989 for independence of the region or merger with Pakistan.
Turnout was so far 11 percent in the state, the Election Commission said.
The Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty has dominated Indian politics since independence in 1947, providing three prime ministers, two of which were assassinated.
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