Tue, Apr 30, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Rich and famous vote in India’s polls

MARATHON VOTE:Film and finance capital Mumbai is among the 72 constituencies voting in the fourth of seven rounds of the vote, with the results expected on May 23


A confectioner decorates a model, made out of sweets, depicting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, Chief Minister of West Bengal State Mamata Banerjee, center, and Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi at a sweet shop in Howrah on the outskirts of Kolkata yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Billionaires and Bollywood stars took their turn with Mumbai’s slum dwellers yesterday to vote in the nation’s marathon election as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi steps up his nationalist campaign to sway the 900 million electorate.

India’s film and finance capital took center stage in the fourth of seven rounds of voting with 72 constituencies across the nation taking part. Final results are to be released on May 23.

At least 40,000 police and security personnel were deployed across the city of 20 million people while workers were given a holiday so they could vote for Mumbai’s six lawmakers.

Long lines were waiting when the 10,000 polling stations opened at 7am.

Media scrums were set up at the stations where India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, Bollywood superstars, including Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan, as well as Indian cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar were due to vote.

Former Indian lawmaker Priya Dutt, a member of one of India’s most famous acting families, is trying to make a comeback for the opposition Congress Party in Mumbai after sitting in the Lok Sabha assembly — the nation’s lower house of parliament — from 2005 to 2009.

Award-winning actress Urmila Matondkar is running for Congress in the north of the city.

However, the concerns of the rich and famous were far from the ordinary voters in line.

“The most pressing issue for Mumbaikars is unemployment and rising costs of living,” shop trader Jignesh Shah said as he lined up in the suburb of Chembur.

“As a middle-class family it gets really difficult when real estate costs are so high and transportation is a mess,” the 56-year-old added.

About 60 percent of Mumbai’s population live in slums.

At the other end of the wealth spectrum, Ambani has raised eyebrows by backing the Congress candidate in his Mumbai constituency, which Modi’s conservative Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has left to an allied right-wing party.

He has regularly spoken in support of Modi’s BJP government and the Reliance Industries tycoon’s son, Anant Ambani, attended a recent Modi rally.

Yesterday’s voting in nine states is particularly crucial for Modi’s chances of securing a second term after his landslide win in 2014.

More than three dozen seats are at stake in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan states, all traditional BJP Hindu strongholds. Defeats suffered by the ruling party in three recent state elections has raised Congress hopes that it can eat into the government’s majority.

Modi’s party won 282 of the 543 seats contested last time, but analysts say this election would be closer.

Congress has hit out at Modi’s handling of the economy, the failure to produce promised jobs and massive debts in rural India, which has seen thousands of farmers commit suicide in the past four years.

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