After a bitter campaign, India’s marathon election closes today after almost seven weeks awash with insults, violence and fake news.
India today votes in the seventh and concluding phase for the remaining 59 seats that included Varanasi where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking to retain the seat.
The Indian Lok Sabha has 545 seats. Polling is going on for 543 seats and an additional two seats are filled by nominees from the Anglo Indian community.
On the eve of the final day of voting in the world’s biggest democratic exercise, local media reports said Modi, 68, would also spend some time in a “mediation cave”.
Having addressed more than 140 election rallies across the country, Modi yesterday arrived in Dehradun, the capital of the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand famous for its Hindu pilgrimage sites.
Modi’s hectic campaign which started in March has seen him address three rallies a day on average, criss-crossing the length and breadth of the geographically diverse nation of 1.3 billion people.
From Dehradun, the Hindu nationalist premier travelled to Kedarnath and was due to go on to Badrinath to pay his respects at shrines dedicated to the Hindu deity Lord Shiva.
But it was not all relaxation, with the premier also expected to review reconstruction projects after floods in Uttarakhand in 2013 killed some 6,000 people.
Modi is seeking a second term from India’s 900 million voters after leading his right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power in 2014, with results due on May 23.
Opinion polls, although unreliable, predict that the BJP may lose seats this time despite its formidable campaigning machine, meaning it might need a coalition to form a new government.
His main rival is Rahul Gandhi, 48, of the Congress party, the scion of India’s famed Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
The rival parties have thrown almost daily barbs at each other, accusing each other of corruption, nepotism and fake nationalism.
As in previous rounds of polling, the polling has been marked by violence, most recently in West Bengal state where tens of thousands of security forces have been deployed following street clashes between BJP and rival supporters of the regional Trinamool Congress party.
The gargantuan election has also seen a flood of “fake news”, including photoshopped images and edited video clips, with both main parties using legions of people to manage social media.
“The likelihood that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party wins a majority by itself is falling (10%, from 15% previously),” Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy, said Friday in a report.
Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu yesterday met Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and his alliance partner Mayawati in Lucknow, hours after he discussed firming up a non-BJP front with Congress President Rahul Gandhi in the national capital. He also met Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar.
The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) Chief’s efforts come ahead of a mega meet of opposition leaders on May 23, hosted by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, to prepare for the possibility of a less than decisive verdict.
Naidu, 69, met CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal on Friday and discussed with them the possibility of a tie-up in the post-results scenario.
“We welcome not only the TRS but any party which is against the BJP. We are welcoming all such parties to be a part of our grand alliance,” Naidu had said on Friday, when asked about whether the Congress-led alliance will join hands with Telangana Rashtra Samithi chief K Chandrashekar Rao.
K Chandrashekar Rao, a bitter rival of Naidu, has been busy with his own mission, to try and organise a non-Congress, non-BJP front. He also met with DMK President MK Stalin, who has openly endorsed Congress chief Rahul Gandhi for prime minister.
Naidu also met the Election Commission on Friday and accused it of being pro-government and demanded action against the BJP’s Bhopal candidate Pragya Thakur for remarks glorifying Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse.
Earlier this month, Chandrababu Naidu met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in her state and attended two rallies with her.