Frontrunner for prime minister Narendra Modi declared an end to India’s “mother-son government” as he voted Wednesday in his party’s heartland in the latest stage of the country’s mammoth elections.
Voters queued early in 89 constituencies across nine states and territories in the latest leg of staggered voting in the world’s biggest election which ends with results announced on May 16.
Modi, a Hindu nationalist hardliner, voted in the city of Ahmedabad in his home state of Gujarat before taking a “selfie” of his inked finger and flashing his party’s symbol of the lotus flower to cheering crowds.
“After analyzing the election process and the voter’s mind until now, I can say that this time nothing can save the mother-son government… a strong government will come to power,” said Modi dressed in all white.
“All citizens have to take part in the festival and make the democracy stronger,” he added.
The Congress party, headed by Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul, is widely expected to lose to Modi’s resurgent opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after a decade in power.
With the Congress campaign flailing with just over two weeks to go, another Gandhi, Rahul’s sister Priyanka, has stepped up to lead a fightback by India’s most famed political dynasty.
Priyanka this week called the battle against Modi and the BJP a “fight for the heart” of Hindu-majority but constitutionally secular India as the campaign grows increasingly bitter.
Modi is seen as a deeply polarizing figure due to his Hindu nationalist rhetoric and failure to swiftly curb deadly 2002 anti-Muslim riots that swept Gujarat during his early years as chief minister of the prosperous western state.
About 140 million people were eligible to vote on Wednesday including in Modi’s Gujarat and the battleground states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh which alone sends 80 lawmakers to India’s 543-member parliament.
Security was tight in Srinagar, the main city of disputed Indian Kashmir, where separatist leaders have called for a poll boycott and militants have threatened violence against voters who cast their ballots.
Hundreds of police and paramilitaries patrolled the streets of Srinagar which were mostly deserted except for a handful of voters.