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India’s newest state Telangana will also elect its first 17 representatives to Parliament.
On Wednesday, almost 139 million voters have the right to vote in the polls in seven states and two union territories.
Elections are already over in 349 constituencies in the first six phases.
The frontrunner to form the next government in Delhi, according to forecasts by most Indian polls, the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial contender Narendra Modi is seeking his first term as a parliamentarian in Gujarat’s Vadodara constituency that goes to polls today.
Modi is also fighting from a second seat in the ancient Indian temple city of Varanasi that goes to polls on May 12, the last day of the world’s biggest electoral exercise this year. Founder of India’s anti-graft party, the Aam Admi Party (Common Man Party) Arvind Kejriwal, is challenging the Hindu nationalist leader in Varanasi, and has repeatedly questioned the alternative economic model espoused by Modi.
The ruling Congress Party led by Sonia Gandhi is facing a mammoth challenge in the polls as it battles allegations of corruption and a popular backlash against a slowing economy and rising inflation. Gandhi’s constituency of Rae Bareli in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh also goes to polls today. The fortunes of the Congress Party would also depend on its performance in this key state, India’s most populous, which elects 80 of the 543 members of parliament.
Right wing leader Modi and Congress chairperson Gandhi have traded accusations in a bitter campaign this summer as they lay claim to differing “ideas of India”. Modi, though backed by Indian and global businesses, has been accused of being complicit in one of Independent India’s worst communal carnage, the riots of 2002 in his home state of Gujarat. Muslims in the state and elsewhere in India have expressed apprehensions about the role of Modi in the violence.
Modi has in turn accused the Congress of massive corruption and what he terms a “weak” foreign policy approach towards neighbour Pakistan.
If a Modi-led BJP and its allies are unable to reach the halfway mark of 272 needed to form a government, regional leaders like Mayawati, the powerful head of a Dalit (lower caste) backed party and Jayalalitha, chief minister of a southern Indian state, would be critical in notching up the requisite numbers for an alternative group of parties to stake claim to Delhi.
Despite the overwhelming logistics of the democratic exercise that will witness the participation of 814 million voters, polling so far has been relatively peaceful this year with a few stray incidents of insurgency-related violence reported from India’s north-eastern states.