India Election Campaign Turns Bitter as Modi Casts His Vote

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Voters went to the polls in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat in the third phase of India’s election, with campaigning becoming increasingly acrimonious between the two main parties.

Modi, 73, cast his vote Tuesday morning in Gujarat’s largest city of Ahmedabad. Appearing before supporters outside a polling station in a saffron vest — the trademark color of his Bharatiya Janata Party — Modi urged them to vote in large numbers and stay hydrated amid scorching temperatures across India.

Modi is seeking a historic third term in power, with the BJP campaigning on India’s fast-growing economy and an assertive pro-Hindu agenda that critics say has marginalized Muslims and other minorities. In an interview on Monday, Modi didn’t rule out going for a fourth term should he win this time around but said a country shouldn’t be run on the basis of one person.

“I don’t want this country to run on Modi,” he said. “This Modi himself will not want.”

Billionaire Gautam Adani, who is perceived to have close ties with Modi, also cast his vote in Ahmedabad, telling reporters later that India is “progressing forward and will continue to progress.”

Balloting will also take place in parts of Maharashtra, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and other regions in the latest round of India’s seven-phase election. Eleven states and territories in all go to the polls on Tuesday, with 93 seats in India’s lower house of Parliament, the Lok Sabha, in contention.

Voter turnout was 60.19% at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, with an hour left before polls close, according to the Election Commission of India. Turnout was 66.14% and 66.71% in the first two phases of elections, respectively. Overall voter turnout in 2019 was 67.4%.

Attention has recently shifted to the dip in voter turnout. Last week, the commission said in a statement it was disappointed with turnout so far and is taking measures to boost participation in the remaining five phases, including ordering state officials to draw up get-out-the-vote plans.

Voting in India’s marathon election began April 19 and will run through June 1. The winner will be declared June 4.

The latest round of polling comes as Modi and his allies have ramped up attacks on the opposition that have drawn condemnation for being discriminatory. At a rally last month, Modi told supporters that if voted to power, the Congress party would redistribute wealth to Muslims and “infiltrators.” This week, the BJP in Karnataka province posted an animated video that showed the Congress party favoring Muslims over other minority groups.

The Congress party say the BJP is misrepresenting the pledges made in its manifesto and has registered complaints with the Election Commission of India and the police over some of the comments.

Modi, who is widely expected to win a third five-year term, was born in Gujarat and built his political career in the prosperous western state, running it as chief minister from 2001 through 2014 on a pro-business platform. He drew criticism for a wave of deadly communal riots in 2002 in the state, though was cleared of wrongdoing by India’s Supreme Court. The BJP won all of the state’s 26 seats in 2019 and 2014.

Attention will also be on voting in Maharashtra state, where two regional parties — the Shiv Sena party and the Nationalist Congress Party, or NCP — have each split in two, leading to confused allegiances and infighting across the region.

Here are some key constituencies up for a vote on Tuesday:

  • Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah will be seeking another term from Gandhinagar in Gujarat. The state is a BJP stronghold. Shah will face off against the Congress party’s Sonal Patel

  • In Baramati, Maharashtra, attention is on a family feud: Sitting Lok Sabha member Supriya Sule squares off against sister-in-law Sunetra Pawar. Each is affiliated with opposing sides of the NCP split

--With assistance from Swati Gupta and Shruti Srivastava.

(Adds details of voter turnout in seventh paragraph.)

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