Mon, May 20, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Voting in India ends, counting to start

COST OF DEMOCRACY:The Centre for Media Studies estimated that the outlay on the election could top US$7 billion, with a lot of that spent on social media advertising

AFP, KOLKATA, India

Voting in one of India’s most acrimonious elections in decades entered its final day yesterday as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to retain his overall majority.

The seventh and final round of voting ended the world’s biggest election with 900 million eligible voters from Goa’s beaches to Mumbai’s slums and Ladakh’s Himalayan monasteries.

Long lines formed outside polling stations in eight northern states electing the final 59 candidates to India’s 543-seat lower house. Vote counting is to begin on Thursday.

Heavy security was imposed in West Bengal, which has seen street battles between followers of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and opposition groups.

An improvised bomb was thrown from a motorbike at one polling booth in the state capital, Kolkata, but no one was injured, officials said.

One group attacked a makeshift BJP office in the city and police also cleared others who were blocking polling stations.

Modi’s constituency in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh was also among those to vote.

The BJP has campaigned aggressively and played up recent cross-border airstrikes against Pakistan. The opposition, led by the Congress Party and its leader, Rahul Gandhi, have accused Modi of pursuing divisive policies and neglecting the economy.

Modi and Gandhi have hurled insults at each other on a near daily basis with the prime minister calling his rival a “fool,” while Gandhi derides Modi as a “thief.”

The animosity has taken a toll on voters.

“All the abuse and misconduct claims suggest that standards in Indian politics have slipped badly,” Asit Banerjee, a history teacher in Kolkata, said as he lined up to vote.

“Endless mudslinging and bitter comments pervaded the campaign. We are losing hope in democracy, it is time for a reset,” the 60-year-old said.

Writing in the Hindustan Times, political commentator Karan Thapar said that Modi’s message “played on our insecurities and strummed upon our deep inner fears.”

He also criticized Gandhi’s campaign.

Pollsters say that Modi remains personally popular, but his party’s overall majority is at risk from a backlash.

The 68-year-old Modi has held 142 rallies across India during the campaign, sometimes five a day, but pollsters say that the BJP could lose dozens of the 282 seats it won in its 2014 landslide.

On Saturday, Modi, dressed in a long robe and saffron sash, trekked to a Himalayan shrine to meditate. Indian media widely used images showing him seated on a bed inside a cave in the country’s north.

The Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies estimated that the outlay on this election could top US$7 billion, making it one of the priciest contests globally, with the lion’s share of the spending by the BJP.

Much has been spent on social media advertising and messages, with the parties using armies of “cyberwarriors” to bombard India’s hundreds of millions of Facebook and WhatsApp users.

False reports and doctored images have abounded, including of Gandhi and Modi having lunch with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.

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