India beefed up security ahead of the scheduled release of Lok Sabha election results today as opposition dismissed “fake” exit polls which predicted a clear victory for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Amid high tensions, Indian home ministry yesterday warned that there could be attempts to trigger violence during the counting of votes and sent out alerts to chief secretaries and police chiefs of all states.
The ministry said it has asked states and union territories to be on guard after “calls given in various quarters” for sparking violence and disrupting counting. The ministry said the states and union territories have been asked to take adequate measures for the security of strong-rooms, where electronic voting machines (EVMs) are kept, and vote counting venues.
The central security agencies have received inputs that some organisations and individuals, particularly in the states of Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Tripura, have given certain statements which may lead to violence and disruption in counting process, an official said.
A slew of exit polls released after the world’s largest election ended on Sunday projected that Modi and his allies would return to power with between 282 and 313 seats out of 543 in parliament.
But Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi yesterday dismissed the exit polls and urged the party workers to be alert and vigilant.
“My dear Congress party workers. The next 24 hours are important. Stay alert and vigilant. Don’t be afraid. You are fighting for the truth,” Gandhi, head of the Congress party, said on Twitter.
“Don’t get disappointed by the propaganda of fake exit polls. Keep faith in yourself and the Congress party. Your hard work won’t go to waste. Jai Hind (Bow to the motherland),” he wrote.
India’s ruling coalition led by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) welcomed the predictions and promised to rev up growth, double farmers’ income and boost infrastructure spending in the next five years.
“The NDA has resolved to speed up economic growth and fulfil the needs of the people in the next five years of our government,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh, a senior member of the BJP, told reporters. “We’re committed to a strong, developed and inclusive India.”
However, exit polls have proved misleading before. In 2004 they predicted that prime minister Atal Vajpayee’s BJP-led government would be re-elected but results showed the opposite, bringing a Congress-led alliance to power under Manmohan Singh.
In the last election in 2014, the BJP won 282 seats, the first time a party had won a majority on its own in 30 years. It then cobbled together an alliance with a commanding 334 seats.
Counting of the roughly 600 million votes cast was due to begin at 8:00am (0230 GMT) today. If there is a clear trend this should be evident by around midday.
Lok Sabha elections were held in seven phases from April 11 to May 19. Though the elections were largely peaceful and saw around 67 percent turnout from the over 90-crore electorate, incidents of violence had been reported in several areas.
Political parties opposed to the BJP have alleged tampering of voting machines and intimidation of election officials in several areas.
On Tuesday, more than 20 opposition parties had called on the election watchdog to ensure the machines were not manipulated after video clips emerged on social media purporting to show irregularities.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) moved swiftly to refute the reports, saying voting machines were “absolutely safe in strongrooms”, and those shown in video clips were reserves.
Party volunteers yesterday joined armed police to guard strongrooms containing the four million electronic voting machines (EVMs) used in the vote before counting begins.
And ECI yesterday turned down an opposition demand to tally the VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail) slips with the Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) before votes are counted.
The verification of EVM votes with VVPAT slips from five random polling booths in each assembly segment - made mandatory by the Indian Supreme Court -- will be done after the counting of votes and not before, the EC said yesterday.
Amit Shah, president of the BJP, yesterday said that the opposition was rattled by their likely defeat and were “tarnishing” India by raising questions about the electoral process.