KOLKATA: The voting ended on Sunday in the toughest elections in India in decades, one that will decide whether the Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, gets a second term in power.
When the final ballot boxes were closed, a huge security cordon was thrown around the voting machines and paper ballot boxes used for the most important elections in the world before the official countdown begins on Thursday.
Several early exit polls published by Indian media predicted that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would lose seats, but the allies would still win the majority of the 542 seats fought.
It was predicted that the opposition party in Congress would more than double its 2014 figure of 42 seats. However, surveys in the past have been notoriously unreliable, which adds to political concerns.
Tens of thousands of police and paramilitaries were on duty in the state of West Bengal, a symbol of growing tensions between the BJP and opposition parties during the six weeks of voting that have focused on Modi’s record since his victory crushing five years ago.
Long lines were formed outside polling stations throughout the eastern state, but the BJP and its rivals again accused each other of using violence, fraud, and intimidation.
An improvised bomb was thrown at a polling station in Kolkata and security forces intervened to stop BJP, the communists and other groups blocking various posts in the state capital that was hit by two days of street battles last week.
In the state of Madhya Pradesh, in central India, a congressional office in the Indore district shot and killed a BJP worker before the polls closed, said police superintendent Ruchivardhan Mishra. to the Press Trust of India.
The fight between BJP and rival party workers were also reported in the northern state of Punjab.
The United twins Sabah and Farah voted in the city of Patna, in the east of the state of Bihar, and Shyam Saran Negi, 102, who participated in all the votes since his independence in 1947, cast his vote in the mountainous state of Himachal Pradesh, highlighting the great diversity of the exercise.
The Modi constituency in Varanasi, the sacred Hindu city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, was also among those who voted.
The most attention has been focused on the BJP campaign to project Modi’s strong man image, representing the recent cross-border air attacks against Pakistan.
The opposition, led by Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi, accused him of pursuing division policies, neglecting the economy and leaving many farmers in ruins.
Modi and Gandhi have been released almost every day with daily insults, and the prime minister says his rival is a “fool”, while Gandhi mocks Modi as a “thief”.
“Modi pursues Hitler’s policies against the Kashmiris”
Animosity has taken its toll on voters.
“All claims of abuse and misconduct suggest that standards in Indian politics have slipped seriously,” said Asit Banerjee, a history professor in Calcutta, as he queued to vote.
“Endless tangle and bitter comments invaded the campaign, we are losing hope in a democracy, it’s time for a restart,” the 60-year-old told AFP.
Writing in The Hindustan Times, political commentator Karan Thapar said that Modi’s message “touched our insecurities and tore our deep internal fears.” He said that Gandhi’s campaign was not “great”.
Pollsters say that Modi is still personally popular.
The 68-year-old made 142 rallies across India during the campaign, sometimes five a day, but pollsters predicted before Sunday that the BJP could lose a large portion of the 282 seats he won in 2014.
Disbursement of $ 7 billion
On Saturday, Modi, dressed in a long tunic and a saffron band, went to a shrine in the Himalayas to meditate. The images showed him sitting on a bed inside a holy cave.
The Center for Media Studies, based in Delhi, estimates that the disbursement in this election could exceed $ 7 billion, which makes it one of the most expensive contests in the world, with most of the BJP spending try to attract the 900 million eligible voters in India.
Much has been spent on social networks, where the parties used armies of “cyber warriors” to bombard messages to the hundreds of millions of Facebook and WhatsApp users in India.
Abundant news and adulterated images abounded, including Gandhi and Modi having lunch with Imran Khan, the rival’s prime minister of Pakistan, or a drunk Priyanka Gandhi, a politician and Rahul’s sister.
Gandhi, 48, has tried several lines of attack against Modi, in particular for alleged corruption in a French defense agreement and for the plight of farmers, as well as in the economy.
The Modi government has failed to create jobs for the one million Indians entering the labor market each month, while the surprising introduction of a cash ban in 2016 disrupted livelihoods, and Indian banks are struggling with huge uncollectible debts.