India awaits endgame, exit poll

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Varanasi is cynosure of all eyes in last phase of polls in Mandal belt, BJP begins parleys on govt

India awaits endgame, exit poll
Even as the marathon Lok Sabha elections comes to a close on Monday when polling will be held in 41 constituencies in three st­a­tes, a series of political parleys suggested that the BJP, buoyed by opinion polls, was making informal forays into the tricky business of government making.

On Wednesday’s ninth and final phase of polling, stakes are high for BJP and regional parties Trinamool Congress, SP and BSP.

Over nine crore voters are expected to decide the fate of 606 candidates, including BJP’s prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi, AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal, both from Varanasi and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav who is contesting from Azamgarh.

Counting of votes in all the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies will be taken up on May 16. An average of 66 per cent voters exercised their franchise in the last eight phases. The general elections were spread over 35 days.

Of the 41 seats, politically crucial Uttar Pradesh will witness polling in 18 seats. In the outgoing Lok Sabha, SP has six seats, followed by BSP 5, BJP 4 and Congress 3.

Regarded as India’s ‘Mandal belt’, these constituencies in UP along with six others in neighbouring Bihar, where backward caste politics has come to dominate, present a big challenge to the BJP which has to win as many seats as possible in UP for Modi to remain in the hunt for the top job.

West Bengal has 17 seats on display on Wednesday. Of these, the ruling Trinamool Congress has 14 seats, while Congress, CPI and an Independent have one each.

In of the six Bihar seats, BJP and JD(U) have two each, while RJD and Independent hold one seat each.

Prominent among those in the fray are Union minister Adhir Ranjan Chaudhary, (Behrampur-West Bengal), BJP leader Jagdambika Pal (Domariyaganj), Union minister R P N Singh (Kushi Nagar- both UP) and former Union cabinet minister and RJD leader Raghuvanh Prasad Singh (Vaishali-Bihar).

Polling was by and large peaceful in the last eight

phases barring incidents of Maoist violence in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

The country registered a record turnout of voters, surpassing the previous best in 1984, as 66.27 per cent voting was reported in 502 Lok Sabha seats where polling has been conducted in eight phases that began on April 7. The 2009 elections recorded a 57.94 per cent turnout.

In West Bengal, prominent TMC candidates in the race are Sudip Bandyopadhyay, Dinesh Trivedi and Sougata Roy besides celebrities like actors Dipak Adhikari (Dev) and Tapas Paul. Trinamool Yuva President Abhishek Banerjee, nephew of chief minister Mamata Banerjee, is also in the fray.

On the other side, CPI-M's Subhasini Ali is among the key candidates. BJP nominee magician P C Sorcar (junior) and WBPCC President Adhir Chowdhury, besides former West Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta of the CPI-M and ex-Union minister Tapan Sikdar of the BJP, pitted against each other in Dum Dum, are the main contestants in the last phase.

In Bihar, filmmaker Prakash Jha and former union minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh are among the 90 contestants whose fates will be sealed in the ballot box on Monday.

Meanwhile, in an appeal ahead of the last phase of polling, Narendra Modi has urged voters to come out in record numbers to cast their ballot, saying NDA is the only alliance that can bring about a change in the country. "People are tired of false promises, corruption and the same old tape-recorded messages ridden with dynastic references only to hide one's own failure. They want a better tomorrow and NDA is the only alliance that can provide this change," he said.

This election campaign, irrespective of the outcome, will be long remembered for Modi’s lion-hearted campaign in which he became the single-point reference for virtually every politician in the country. The Gujarat strongman covered 5,800 locations, covering a distance of over three lakh kilometers in the last eight months starting September 13, when he became his party’s prime ministerial candidate.

In the current poll campaign, Modi addressed 440 rallies, including Bharat Vijay rallies that began on March 26 this year. These included "chai pe charcha" rallies and 12 rounds of 3D rallies at 1,350 different locations.

At the end of his eight-month-long campaign, Modi urged all ``voters in the final phase to vote in record numbers, especially the youth. Please go to vote, taking your family and friends to vote. Every vote matters!"

Modi said that during the campaign he had a clear message that people have to decide on whether to fight with each other or to unite and fight poverty, saying the "former will lead us nowhere while the latter will take our nation to greater heights".

The Gujarat chief minister also thanked party workers for their tireless and selfless efforts during the campaign as they went door-to-door to spread the party's message to create a better India for future generations. He also lauded the role of the leaders from whose experience and wisdom the party derives immense strength and inspiration.

Signs that the BJP was preparing to assume a larger role in government-making became evident when a day after Modi's meeting with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and its top brass, BJP president Rajnath Singh too met senior Sangh leaders and is learnt to have discussed the post-poll strategy ahead of counting of votes on May 16.

RSS sources said during both the meetings, Sangh top leadership voiced confidence that a BJP-led government will form the next government at the centre.

At the same time, they gave a "word of caution" to the BJP to handle the "upcoming responsibility with care" while extending the Sangh's full support to the party.

The RSS leaders are learnt to have also expressed ``satisfaction" at the BJP poll campaign. During his meeting with RSS general secretaries Bhayyaji Joshi, the Sangh second-in-command and Suresh Soni, the RSS points man for BJP, along with other leaders, Rajnath thanked the Sangh for the support they extended to BJP candidates during the campaign.

The closed-door meeting was held at the RSS office in Jhandewalan in central Delhi. Others present at the meeting were RSS joint general secretaries Dattatreya Hosabale and Krishan Gopal.

After the meeting, Dattatreya said ``It is not like in this two-hour meeting, the strategy to form the next government was discussed. It was a general affectionate meeting. I do not say it was a courtesy meeting, as there is no courtesy

meeting in the Sangh. They have been working hard for a lot of days and we are glad."

Rajnath's meeting with RSS leaders comes a day after BJP's prime ministerial candidate held a two-hour meeting with RSS chief and other leaders and apprised them of the long poll campaign. He is also believed to have discussed the party's strategy in the post-poll scenario.

But there was another kind of trouble at Varanasi. On Sunday, the UP police and election commission officials conducted search at BJP's regional office in the city and seized campaign material, prompting strong protests from the party.

A flying squad of the state police and EC swooped down on the party office amid a ban on all election campaign activities since last evening for the polls.

Officials said that the action was taken to seize election campaign material as it had got information about such items being sent in large quantity from the BJP office here in the Sigra locality, despite a ban on poll campaign in place.

BJP leaders, however, claimed these were unused campaign material – mostly T-shirts, pamphlets and badges - which were unused products were being returned to their respective manufacturers.

Later in the day, the EC had decided to `close’ the matter regarding the seizures at BJP’s Varanasi office.

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