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INDIA POLLS: Modi and Kejriwal ready for battle in holy city

Publication Date : 25-04-2014

 

Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), yesterday filed his election papers at the temple city of Varanasi, where a high-decibel battle is unfolding between him and the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Arvind Kejriwal.

Shops were closed in the city - a spiritual centre for Hindu pilgrims as well as a tourist hot spot - as hundreds of thousands of BJP supporters waving saffron-coloured flags lined its streets to greet Modi who drove around in an open-top vehicle.

"I feel blessed to be contesting from this holy city," Modi told ANI news agency after filing his papers, a move expected to kick BJP's campaign into higher gear.

The BJP roadshow extravaganza took place as millions of people voted in the sixth - and second largest - phase of polling for 117 of the 543 seats in parliament.

Voting took place in 12 states including for all the 39 seats in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, an important state where the main contest is between the southern parties Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, a potential post-election ally of the BJP.

India's national elections are a nine-stage process over six weeks that ends on May 12 with results out four days later on May 16.

The BJP is expected to garner the highest number of seats though it is not likely to reach a majority on its own, according to opinion polls that also predict a drubbing for the ruling Congress party on the back of a poor performance in its current term.

A poll by television channel NDTV last week predicted that the BJP and its current allies like the Lok Janshakti Party will win 272 seats while the Congress and its allies only 111. The BJP on its own is expected to win 226 seats.

With three more phases of the polls to go, the focus is now on Varanasi, in the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh that has the largest representation in parliament with 80 seats.

The city, famed for its cremation and bathing ghats along the River Ganges, has become a hive of political activity over the last couple of weeks with AAP leader Kejriwal unfurling a high-octane challenge to Modi. The Congress has fielded Varanasi native and former BJP member Ajay Rai.

The BJP has had a hold over the seat for the most part of two decades, losing to Congress in 2004, but winning it back in 2009.

While Modi is expected to win, Kejriwal - whose one-year-old party is testing its popularity in its first parliamentary elections - is putting up a strong fight, reaching out to Muslims, who form 20 per cent of the population, and other groups.

Kejriwal filed his papers on Wednesday.

"In Varanasi, Kejriwal is in a direct fight with Modi. The Aam Aadmi Party campaigners have also been going from pillar to post and are moving in all the villages.

Kejriwal is getting support from the downtrodden and underprivileged. But the Muslim vote is divided," said Professor Asghar Ansari at Banaras Hindu University.

"According to our calculation, Modi is going to win. What we don't know is by what margin. The Congress is coming in third."

Modi's key aide Amit Shah yesterday told reporters to prepare for a Modi government. "The Modi wave has been converted into a tsunami today," he declared.

But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who voted yesterday in Assam, scorched the claim of a Modi wave. "I don't think there is any Modi wave. It is the creation of the media. The country has not been swept by any Modi wave," he said after casting his vote.

 

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