Tight security as Indians vote in final phase of mammoth election

A man looks on as he arrives to cast his vote inside a polling station during the state assembly election in the northern state of Punjab, in the village of Nada, India, February 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ajay Verma
A man looks on as he arrives to cast his vote inside a polling station during the state assembly election in the northern state of Punjab, in the village of Nada, India, February 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ajay Verma

Indians lined up to vote amidunprecedented security in the eastern state of West Bengal on Sunday as thefinal phase of a massive, staggered election got underway to decide whetherPrime Minister Narendra Modi returns for a second term.

Around 900 million Indians areeligible to vote in the seven-phase election, with vote counting to begin onThursday.

The gruelling, 39-day poll beganin the wake of aerial clashes and escalated tensions with neighbouringPakistan, which Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) used to focus itscampaign on national security.

The main opposition Congressparty and other regional blocs concentrated on the government's economicmismanagement and inability to create jobs in their attempt to win voters.

However, the campaign turnedincreasingly personal and vitriolic in the final stages and clashes betweenrival groups marred polling in West Bengal.

India's election commissionsuspended campaigning on Wednesday, a day early, after violence in the state'scapital, Kolkata.

Security was tight around votingstations in Kolkata and surrounding areas where people will cast their vote onSunday. Around 57,000 policemen have been deployed and more than 400 quickresponse teams are on standby in case of any trouble, according to the chiefelectoral officer in Kolkata.

Amitava Ganguly, an employee of aprivate power utility, said there was polarisation along communal lines in WestBengal.

"I have never seen such anelection before," Ganguly said.

The BJP is attempting to makeinroads into West Bengal, which has the third highest number of parliamentaryseats among Indian states, to offset likely losses elsewhere but has met stiffopposition from the regional Trinamool Congress party.

More than 100 million Indians areeligible to vote in the final phase, covering 59 seats in 8 states. India'sparliament has a total of 545 seats, out of which the BJP won 272 in theprevious general election in 2014 to secure a single-party majority for thefirst time in around three decades.

Neelanjan Sircar, a politicalscience professor at Ashoka University near New Delhi, said opposition groupswere looking to tap into anger against Modi and the BJP's strong grassrootsmachinery that helped it win in 2014.

"To me, this election isvery much a battle between voter accountability and party organisation,"Sircar said.

The well-funded BJP dominatedmost of the campaign, allowing Modi to set the agenda.

His decision to bomb a purportedmilitant training camp in Pakistan, soon after a suicide attack in the disputedKashmir region killed 40 policemen, boosted his support.

The opposition lacked a strongcounter punch but the drawn-out, seven-phase election still appeared totighten. Congress and other regional parties sense an opportunity to oust Modi.

Nitin Anand, a 29-year-oldfirst-time voter, stood in a queue since 7 a.m. (0200 GMT) to vote in Salt Lakecity near Kolkata, where voting was delayed when electronic polling machinesmalfunctioned.

"I will cast my vote on theissue of development," Anand said.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Ajel
english.ajel.sa