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Security tight as India’s BJP prepares for election win

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NEW DELHI: Indian police tightened security amid restrictions on election celebrations Thursday as the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party geared up for victory ahead of the publication of results.
Workers at the flower-festooned New Delhi headquarters of the BJP passed around traditional Indian sweets and chanted tributes to hardline leader Narendra Modi who, polls show, is likely to emerge as prime minister.
BJP workers said they brought in two car-loads of fireworks, while confectioner Hari Gyan Singh told AFP he had prepared around 2.5 tonnes (5,511 pounds) of laddoos, a traditional ball-shaped sweet for the celebrations.
Vote counting will start at 08:00 am (0230 GMT) on Friday at the climax of a marathon six-week parliamentary election that saw a record 551 million people file through polling booths.
“People have voted for development and progress. People are restless for change. They will feel liberated once results are announced,” BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told reporters.
Election Commission officials have banned victory processions in India’s holiest Hindu city of Varanasi, where Modi is standing, and throughout the electorally critical northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The state’s chief election official, Umesh Sinha, told AFP the decision was “ultimately aimed at maintaining law and order in the state”.
Uttar Pradesh is one of India’s most sensitive states and violence in Muzaffarnagar district last September between Muslims and Hindus left some 50 people dead and forced thousands to flee their homes.
The ruling Congress party, expected to face a resounding defeat after 10 years in power, has warned that a BJP victory will stoke interreligious tensions in the Hindu-majority country.
Violence flared in the southern city of Hyderabad on Wednesday in which three people were killed during clashes between Muslims and Sikhs.
Hundreds of police and paramilitary forces patrolled the old quarter of Hyderabad — an IT hub that is home to giants Google and Microsoft — enforcing a curfew Thursday, one day after mobs destroyed homes and other property. “About 500 police are patrolling the area. The situation is calm and quiet now,” local joint police commissioner Y. Gangadhar told AFP.
According to local media, Wednesday’s clashes erupted after a group of Muslims allegedly torched a flag at a Sikh temple.
Modi was taking a break from months of relentless campaigning on Thursday and was staying in his home state of Gujarat which he has run since 2001 as chief minister.
Sources in his administration said he would seek the blessing of his mother Hiraba on Thursday before addressing public meetings in his Gujarat constituency of Vadodara and the main city of Ahmedabad.
The BJP’s previous best showing was in elections in 1998 and 1999 when it won 182 seats and ran the country until a shock defeat at the hands of the Congress in 2004.
Exit polls, which failed to predict the 2004 reversal, forecast that the right-wing National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by the BJP should garner a majority of 272 seats — with other allies keen to join.
Modi has struggled to shake off perceptions of prejudice against India’s 150 million Muslims following religious riots in Gujarat in 2002.
The violence left some 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead and allegations that he did too little to control the unrest. A Supreme Court investigation found no case against him and he denies wrongdoing.
“We all are so happy,” Modi’s younger and only sister Vasantiben Modi, 58, told AFP from a modest two-storey house in the dusty town of Unjha in Gujarat on Thursday. 

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