India passes halfway mark in election with Hindu nationalists gaining strength

A woman shows her ink-marked finger after voting inside a polling station in the village of Kamshet, in the western Indian state of Maharashtra April 17, 2014. REUTERS-Danish Siddiqui

(Reuters) – India called a quarter of its 815 million voters to polls on Thursday, the biggest day of its staggered election, in areas ranging from Himalayan passes to a southern IT hub and western sugarcane farms.

The country is now over halfway through its nine days of voting for a new parliament in the world’s biggest ever election, with the ruling Congress party struggling to hold ground against the Hindu nationalist opposition.

Narendra Modi, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) candidate for prime minister, has been wooing voters with promises to rouse India’s economy from its slowest growth in a decade and create jobs for its booming young population.

A decision by the Election Commission to reprimand a senior Modi aide for making speeches deemed to stir tensions with minority Muslims underlined critics’ assertions that the party is a divisive force.

But in the latest large opinion poll, taken in the first week of April, the BJP and its allies were forecast to win a narrow majority in the 543-seat lower house of parliament, compared with previous surveys predicting that they would fall short.

“Modi could be the change we need,” said software engineer Murali Mohan, after casting his vote in a suburb of Bangalore, the center of India’s outsourcing sector and the capital of the lush southern state of Karnataka.

“I want to see constructive work, economic development in this country,” said Mohan, 39.

Voting took place in 120 constituencies across 12 states, with election materials airlifted to parts of the fractious Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir, while mobile polling stations in vans were used in the deserts of Rajasthan.

One rural constituency in the western state of Maharashtra had three candidates with the same name, an apparent use of the “clone candidates” strategy that parties sometimes employ to confuse voters and split support for rivals.

Voting runs until May 12 and results are due on May 16.

Source: Reuters