Congress battles to avoid Indian poll wipe-out as BJP's Modi scents power

Rahul Gandhi takes on Modi in Varanasi, but BJP confident of taking reins of power in Delhi

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 May, 2014, 6:02am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 May, 2014, 6:02am


Campaigning in India's bitterly fought election entered its last day yesterday ahead of this week's final voting, with the Hindu-nationalist opposition already scenting victory.

Rahul Gandhi, heading the campaign of the ruling Congress party, which is seen as heading for a crushing defeat, sought to muster a final show of strength in the holy Hindu city of Varanasi.

Varanasi is one of the last constituencies set to vote in tomorrow's final leg of the multi-phase election. The city on the Ganges is being contested by Narendra Modi, tipped to lead the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to power after a decade in opposition.

Gandhi, standing in an open garland-festooned truck, shook well-wishers' hands. The broader national battle is between Congress and the BJP in the election, whose results are due on Friday.

But the media have depicted the Varanasi contest as a "David and Goliath" clash between anti-graft campaigner Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the upstart Aam Aadmi - Common Man - Party, and Modi.

Kejriwal drew huge crowds when he told Varanasi voters on Friday he was confident of "a huge majority" in the temple-studded city.

But the BJP predicted "a clear majority" nationally.

Top organiser Amit Shah said the electorate had supported the BJP "irrespective of caste [and] religion" as he sought to dispel notions that Modi's muscular Hindu nationalism was a stumbling block for voters.

Modi, 63, who has made myriad campaign stops - even appearing as a hologram to supporters - was also making a final whirlwind appeal to voters.

In the last days of the campaign, he has sought to cast off his polarising image and the BJP's religion-based reputation, pushing an agenda of good governance and growth.

"I believe in one India, the best India," said Modi, chief minister of thriving Gujarat state.

He is popular among business and middle-class voters frustrated by a sharp economic slowdown, high inflation and corruption scandals.

Still, 12 years ago, few would have guessed Modi would be in line to be prime minister after riots swept Gujarat during his early time as chief minister, killing at least 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.

The BJP leader was never charged with wrongdoing but many critics charge that he did too little to stop the violence.

Bookies reckon the likelihood of Rahul Gandhi becoming prime minister is so minuscule they have stopped taking bets, according to local media.