BANGALORE: India hosted its biggest day of voting Thursday with the ruling Congress Party battling to stem a further slide in the polls against the opposition Hindu nationalists after another week of damaging headlines.
Voters lined up in 121 constituencies across a dozen states on the sixth day of staggered voting in the election extravaganza which ends with results May 16.
Over 195 million voters were eligible to cast ballots, a quarter of the 814-million-strong electorate, with the key battleground states of northern Uttar Pradesh and southern Karnataka in play.
“It’s a very important election, as it will decide the country’s future, the idea of India and its philosophy,” billionaire first-time candidate Nandan Nilekani said Bangalore.
Nilekani, who made his fortune co-founding outsourcing giant Infosys, is standing for Congress in the city where inflation, corruption and sharply slowing economic growth are key issues.
Congress, in power for two terms since 2004, is widely expected to lose to the resurgent opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by hard-line Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi.
The 63-year-old leader, chief minister of prosperous Gujarat state in western India, insists only he can revive the faltering economy.
Meanwhile, Indians streamed into polling stations even in areas where leftist rebels threatened violence over the plight of India’s marginalized and poor.
Among the 13 key states voting Thursday was Chhattisgarh, now the center of a four-decade Maoist insurgency that has affected more than a dozen of India’s 28 states.
With roadside bombings, jungle ambushes and hit-and-run raids, the rebels aim for nothing short of sparking a full-blown peasant revolt as they accuse the government and corporations of plundering resources and stomping on the rights of the poor.
But authorities say that, amid the bloodshed, there are signs that the rebels have waning support — including lines of voters shuffling into polling booths in rebel strongholds.
Also on Thursday, sources said that voters in a parliamentary constituency in western India could be forgiven for asking the real candidates to please stand up.
The race in Maval, a constituency of 1.9 million voters in Maharashtra state, has two real contenders: One is Shrirang Barne of the Shiv Sena, an ally of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that is on track to form the next government.
The other is Laxman Jagtap of the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), an ally of the ruling Congress Party.
Yet the ballot has a total of five men sharing those names. Such “clone” candidates are often fielded to gain an edge by splitting the vote of political rivals.
“They want to confuse the voters and eat into each other’s share,” said Mohan Kadu, the presiding officer for the election commission in Maval.
Both candidates declined to comment on who had fielded their namesakes