The vote which could decide the political fortunes of Narendra Modi, India’s most controversial Hindu politician, and who has been tipped as a future prime minister, was completed yesterday.
Around 70 per cent of almost 20 million voters cast their ballots in the western Indian state of Gujarat in the second of a two-phase election.
The first round of voting was held last week and also saw an unusually large turnout of 67 percent. Counting is set to begin on Thursday.
The result will decide whether Modi, who is standing against Congress candidate Shweta Bhatt, serves a third straight term as the state chief minister. It could also determine his future at national level too.
If Modi wins convincingly his pro-Hindu and right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party) looks set to project him as the prime ministerial candidate for the national general elections due in 2014.
"A good victory for Modi and the undercurrent of unhappiness with the present government in New Delhi … could bring an early general election in 2013,’’ says political commentator Hari Jaisingh, a senior journalist.
For many non-Hindu’s, Modi is a highly controversial figure as he, along with his BJP and several other Hindu groups, are accused of several acts of sectarian violence in Gujarat against Muslims and Christians.
The most notorious was in 2002 when thousands of Muslims were killed in what activists say was violence carried out with the tacit approval of chief minister Modi and state police officials.
However, Modi maintains a strong support base and is confident of victory.
The month-long election campaign saw the Chief Minister play heavily on his economic track record that has seen Gujarat become one of the most developed states in the country.
Notwithstanding the stain of the 2002 anti-Muslim riots, Gujarat is considered an investment-friendly state for business magnates from within India and overseas.
Western companies too have been attracted by Modi’s investment friendly policies during his rule over the last 10 years. They include, among others, automakers like Ford and Suzuki.
In fact, a fine synthesis of local-parochial Gujarati pride, Hindu nationalist philosophy and his economic success is often coined as ‘Moditva’ in Indian politics.
In spite of Modi’s popularity, the state's Congress opposition is hoping to do well and is said to be largely depending on an alliance with new regional outfit Gujarat Parivartan Party (Change in Gujarat Party) led by 84-year-old Keshubhai Patel, a former chief minister and a former senior colleague of Modi. Congress is also hoping the electorate has shown a desire for change.
"It will be erroneous to run us down. There was a strong anti-incumbency wave against the Modi regime," local Gujarat Congress leader, Ilyas Qureshi, a Muslim, from Ahmedabad told ucannews.com.
Some BJP poll managers agree and think the anti-incumbency is the single biggest challenge Modi has to overcome. However, they said Congress has a lot to do to overhaul the BJP’s 117 seats in the 182-member House and return to power in the State after a gap of 22 years.
"We have been in power for so many years now and voter support generally ebbs. But the people of Gujarat have immense faith in Narendra Modi," said Saurabh Patel, Modi's trusted lieutenant and potential successor if the BJP strongman takes that step up to national level.
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