Record voting in Varanasi as elections come to close

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Like the eight phases before it, the final phase of the Lok Sabha polls ended on Monday with 41 constituencies going to polls in three states, recording a high voter turnout compa­red to that in 2009. The highlight of the day was the grand fight in Varanasi which BJP prime minist­erial candidate Nare­n­dra Modi is expected to win.

West Bengal, where 17 seats went to polls, saw a turnout of 80 per cent, marginally lower than 82.07 per cent recorded in the last general election.

The EC made it clear that the figures provided were provisional as final reports were yet to be received at the headquarters. The 18 seats in Uttar Pradesh recorded a turnout of 55.29 per cent, nearly 10 per cent higher than the last elections.

In neighbouring Bihar’s six seats, the percentage was recorded at 58, much higher than 44.3 recorded in 2009. In Varanasi, where Modi is pitted against AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal here, the turnout was recorded at 55.34 per cent, also higher than the 43.34 per cent witnessed in 2009.

In Varanasi, Modi sought a personal mandate crowning his campaign to rule the country with a mix of pro-business policies and Hindu nationalism. “My brothers in Varanasi, let us vote peacefully, we are all one,”

Modi said in a recorded address broadcast on Monday, appealing for calm after a heated campaign that was mostly peaceful but marred by several outbreaks of violence.

Modi’s choice of the city was widely seen as a bid to consolidate his credentials in the politically crucial Hindi belt. His legion of critics sees him as a hardliner even though he has campaigned mainly on his record of job creation and economic management in home state Gujarat.

On Monday, CPM activists in West Bengal were injured by gunfire in clashes with the ruling TMC, prompting a party delegation to register their protest with the election commission saying Trinamool Congress had broken the model code of conduct.

A triumph in Varanasi would cap a grueling, high-tech campaign by the 63-year-old Modi to lead the BJP back to power after a decade in opposition.

“Modi is the prime mover of India — he can change the country,” said Durgesh Kumar Gupta, 21, a geography student standing in a group of young men wearing bright orange or saffron shirts.

For youngsters like him, backward UP needs to go the way of Modi’s Gujarat if things have to change.

A string of scandals and a sharp economic slowdown have put the ruling Congress on the defensive, even though some exit polls on Monday evening suggested that the party may not be wiped out, as feared. “I am confident of giving a tough fight to Narendra Modi,” Varanasi Congress candidate, Ajay Rai, told reporters.

Buoyed by reports from the field in the rounds of voting already held, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders predict their party and its allies may win a record 300 seats, more than the 272 needed to secure an outright majority in Parliament.

If Modi falls short, not only might he miss out on the premiership, but India would also face uncertain negotiations to form a coalition government that — even if led by the BJP -could fall hostage to the demands of regional parties. Modi has further raised the stakes by attacking some of the regional rivals he might need to call on.

Varanasi’s Muslim population is against Modi because of the sectarian riots in Gujarat in 2002, but the anti-Modi vote in Varanasi is split between Congress and anti-corruption campaigner Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Aadmi Party.

One local poll published by the India Today media group gave Modi 56 percent of the vote in the city, with the Congress candidate a distant second.


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