Both principal combatants, the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the challenger Congress, said they were on course to winning the people’s mandate to govern the nation for the next five years as the curtain dropped on Friday on a bitter and bruising campaign for the 17th general elections.
“The election has been amazing. Elections were held in a positive spirit. A government with full majority will come back after remaining in power for five years. This is probably happening after a very long time. This is a big deal in itself,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at a press briefing — his first in five years — he attended with BJP president Amit Shah.
Modi, whose constituency Varanasi will vote on Sunday in the final phase of polling, declined to answer questions, which he diverted to Shah, but used the occasion to thank the people of India. “The people of India have been with me through ups and downs over the last five years.I thank the people for their love, respect and blessings.”
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At the same briefing, Shah said the ruling dispensation would win more than 300 seats in the 543-member Lok Sabha in an election he described as the most important ever fought by the BJP. It echoed a prediction by the PM at his final election rally earlier in the day.
Addressing journalists at the same time, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said he didn’t want to prejudge the people of India by commenting on the election outcome, summing up the campaign waged by his party.
“I am proud to say that we have fought Narendra Modi and BJP. We have protected the institutions of this country, which is our main duty, from Narendra Modi, the BJP, and the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh]. This fight was about protecting the Supreme Court, RBI [Reserve Bank of India], the Constitution and all the institutions that make this great country and give a voice to the people,” Gandhi said, noting that Modi hadn’t accepted his challenge for a debate on the controversial Rafale deal.
“We have given a good fight. Our strategy was to raise people’s issues and we effectively did it. We played A grade role of the Opposition. We incircled Modi and dismantled his idea.”
Gandhi’s senior colleague Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, was less taciturn than the party president in predicting the outcome of the election.
“Congress is going to have the maximum number of members in Parliament. We are looking to secure 273-plus seats this time, which is easily achievable for us. We have done it in the past, we will do it again,” Gandhi said in the Lok Sabha.
The end of the campaign, marked by the discourse suddenly veering towards Mahatma Gandhi, his assassin Nathuram Godse and the BJP’s controversial Bhopal candidate Pragya Thakur’s praise of Godse as a patriot, set the stage for the seventh and final phase of polling on Sunday, in which 59 seats are up for grabs.
Campaigning in West Bengal, where nine Lok Sabha seats will be decided in the final phase, ended a day early because of clashes between ruling Trinamool Congress and BJP workers on Tuesday. The counting of votes and declaration of the outcome are set for May 23.
In the 2014 general election, the BJP won 282 seats and became the first party in 30 years to secure a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance won 336. The Congress, dogged by corruption scandals in the second term of the United Progressive Alliance government, was reduced to 44 seats – its lowest tally ever.
Modi, who kicked off the campaign in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, on March 28, ended it in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh, on Friday.
At his 144th and final election rally, Modi summed up what he claimed was the nation’s mood. “From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, from Kutch to Kamrup, the whole nation is saying ‘Ab ki baar, 300 paar; phir ek baar, Modi sarkar,’” Modi said, expressing confidence the BJP will win over 300 seats.
“This Sunday when you go to cast your vote then you will be scripting history. After decades you will elect a majority government for a second time in a row,” Modi said. “When you press the Lotus button, within 5 seconds you become the owner of my five years. When you vote for lotus you are pressing the trigger to kill a terrorist.”
Modi also sought to link the places where he held his first and last rally on the campaign trail which he said had both inspired nationalism in India.
“My election campaign started from Meerut, Uttar Pradesh. Now the last rally is happening in Khargone, Madhya Pradesh. From a historical perspective, there is a connection between Meerut and Khargone, which is often not noticed. Both the cities are associated with the 1857 War of Independence,” he said.
“In Meerut, Indian soldiers rebelled against the British and in Khargone, freedom fighter Bhima Nayak led a tribal agitation and attained martyrdom,” he said.
At a campaign rally in Solan, Himachal Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi slammed the Modi government for its November 2016 decision to invalidate high-value banknotes, which he said had set back the nation’s economy. The Congress’s NYAY programme will jump-start the economy, he said.
His sister and Congress general secretary for eastern Uttar Pradesh Priyanka Gandhi said at a rally in Mirzapur that Modi was the world’s greatest actor.
“It would have been better if you had elected (movie star) Amitabh Bachchan instead. Anyway, no one would do anything for you,” she said.
Apart from West Bengal, polling will be held on Sunday in all 13 seats in Punjab, as many seats in Uttar Pradesh, eight seats each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, four in Himachal Pradesh, three in Jharkhand, and the lone Union Territory seat of Chandigarh.
The gruelling campaign bordered on the virulent sometimes, with the primary contestants trading accusations on a daily basis, as they took each other on, no holds barred. Modi described Rahul Gandhi’s assassinated father, the late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi , as “bhrashtachari No.1” (corrupt No.1) and the Congress chief’s most common slogan was “chowkidaar chor hai” (the watchman is the thief) to refer to Modi, using the PM’s description of himself as the nation’s watchman.
Both camps knocked on the doors of the Election Commission repeatedly with complaints of violations of the model code of conduct.
(Agencies contributed to this story)
May 17, 2019 23:49 IST