Prime Minister Modi Goes to Cave as Mega Polls End Today

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NEW DELHI — The seven phase acrimonious marathon election for Lok Sabha will come to an end on Sunday when polling will be held in 59 constituencies, including in Varanasi where Prime Minister Narendra Modi is seeking to retain the seat.

Modi himself embarked on a spiritual break on Saturday to a famous Himalayan pilgrimage site in an apparent last-ditch effort to woo Hindu voters as one of the most bitterly fought elections in recent memory,  wound to a close.

Polling will be held in all 13 seats in Punjab and an equal number in Uttar Pradesh, nine in West Bengal, eight each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh, four in Himachal Pradesh, three in Jharkhand and Chandigarh.

Over 10.01 crore voters are expected to decide the fate of 918 candidates. The Election Commission of India (ECI) had set up more than 1.12 lakh polling stations for the smooth conduct of polls.

Assembly bypolls

On Sunday, a bypoll will be held in Panaji, necessitated due to the death of former Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar in March. Bypolls will also be held in four assembly constituencies of Tamil Nadu — Sulur, Aravakurichi, Ottapidaram (SC) and Thiruparankundram.

Counting of votes will be taken up on May 23.

An average of 66.88 per cent voters exercised their franchise in the last six phases. The whole elections were spread over 38 days.

In Uttar Pradesh, all eyes will be on Varanasi, where besides Mr. Modi, 25 others are in fray. Mr. Modi’s main challengers are Congress’s Ajay Rai and SP-BSP grand alliance’s nominee Shalini Yadav.

Union Minister Manoj Sinha and Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Mahendra Nath Pandey are seeking re-election from Ghazipur and Chandauli respectively.

The BJP is contesting 11 Lok Sabha seats in this phase, while its ally Apna Dal (Sonelal) is contesting Mirzapur, currently held by Union Minister Anupriya Patel, and Robertsganj.

SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and Union Ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri are among the 278 candidates, including 24 women, whose fate will be decided in Punjab on Sunday.

Besides Punjab, more than 6 lakh voters in the union territory of Chandigarh will choose between MP and BJP candidate Kirron Kher and former railway minister and Congress candidate Pawan Kumar Bansal.

Actor-turned-politician Sunny Deol, Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar and Aam Aadmi Party’s Punjab unit chief Bhagwant Mann are among other prominent candidates in the fray.

On most of the 13 seats, the contest appears to be a direct fight between the Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance.

A conglomeration of several political outfits, the Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA), led by AAP rebel Sukhpal Singh Khaira, is also contesting all 13 seats, while the SAD (Taksali), a breakaway faction of the SAD, has fielded one candidate from Anandpur Sahib.

In 2014, the AAP and the SAD won four seats each, the Congress three and the BJP two.

West Bengal

An electorate of 1,49,63,064 will decide the fate of 111 candidates in nine seats of West Bengal — Kolkata North and Kolkata South, Dum Dum, Barasat, Basirhat, Jadavpur, Diamond Harbour, Jaynagar (SC) and Mathurapur (SC).

Eight seats, barring Jadavpur, will witness a contest among the Trinamool Congress, the BJP, the Congress and the Left Front. The Congress has given the Jadavpur seat a miss.

The nine constituencies are spread across the three districts of Kolkata, South and North 24 Parganas.

The high-voltage campaign for the final phase saw poll meetings by Mr. Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Congress leader Sachin Pilot and West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC chief Mamata Banerjee.

Mr. Shah’s roadshow in Kolkata on Tuesday was marred by violence and destruction of social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar’s bust in a college in north Kolkata.

In a first such action in India’s electoral history, the ECI ordered campaigning in the nine West Bengal constituencies to end at 10 p.m. on Thursday, instead of 6 p.m. on Friday, in the wake of the violence between the BJP and the TMC during Mr. Shah’s roadshow.

Union Ministers in fray

As many as four Union Ministers — Ravi Shankar Prasad, Ram Kripal Yadav, RK Singh and Ashwini Kumar Choubey — are among the 157 candidates in Bihar.

Seven of these seats were won by the NDA last time, five by the BJP and two by the RLSP, which is now with the “mahagathbandhan”.

One was bagged by the JD(U) headed by Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, which then fought separately but is now back with the NDA.

Bypoll will also be held for the Dehri Assembly seat.

The most keenly-watched contest is in Patna Sahib where Mr. Prasad, one of the most prominent members of the Modi Cabinet, is seeking entry into the Lok Sabha. He is pitted against Shatrughan Sinha — the actor-turned-politician who won it on both occasions for the BJP and is now in the fray as the Congress candidate.

Electoral fortunes in Jharkhand

The electoral fortunes of 42 candidates, including that of former Chief Minister and Union Minister Shibu Soren, will be decided on Sunday in Jharkhand.

Mr. Soren, chief of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and a eighth term sitting MP is in the fray from Dumka seat once again. He is crossing swords with BJP’s Sunil Soren. The JMM leader had defeated his BJP challenger twice in 2009 and 2014.

In M.P.

Dewas, Ujjain, Mandsaur, Ratlam, Dhar, Indore, Khargone and Khandwa seats in Madhya Pradesh, all currently held by the BJP, will go to the polls in Madhya Pradesh. Former Union ministers Kantilal Bhuria and Arun Yadav are in the fray from Ratlam and Khandwa, the latter seeing a tough fight between Yadav and ex-MP BJP chief Nandkumar Singh Chauhan.

Polling will also be held in all four Lok Sabha constituencies in Himachal Pradesh where as many as 45 candidates, including five legislators, are in the fray.

Wooing gods

On the eve of the final day of voting, Modi, 68, meditated at a holy cave wrapped in an orange robe in Uttarakhand.

Seated on a bed and propped up by a pillow, Modi was pictured inside the cave after having walked on a red carpet to the revered Kedarnath shrine dedicated to Hindu deity Lord Shiva. He also shared pictures that he took enroute to the shrine on Twitter where he boasts 47.3 million followers.

He had to take special permission from the national poll watchdog for the trip as election rules prohibit any campaigning 48 hours before voting, the Press Trust of India news agency said.


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