AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
Published — Friday 14 December 2012
Last update 13 December 2012 11:33 pm
AHMEDABAD, India: Millions voted yesterday in India’s Gujarat state where Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi is expecting another win, 10 years after anti-Muslim riots on his watch.
Crowds thronged polling stations in the first of two rounds of voting in the western state, one of India’s fastest developing regions that has been run since 2001 by Chief Minister Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Polling officials said over 10 million people out of the 38-million-strong electorate had cast their ballots in the first seven hours, amid reports that many more were still queuing up at voting centers.
“It is a BJP storm in Gujarat,” Modi announced at an election rally in the state’s Siddhpur region. “Wherever there is voting, records of all previous polls have been broken,” he told cheering supporters.
Modi, who has secured thumping victories in the last two polls, is looking to secure another sizeable majority for the BJP to bolster his reputation.
Though he has never declared his ambition to be prime minister, his desire for the top spot in his party is an open secret and he is widely thought to be angling to lead the BJP into national elections due in 2014.
Modi’s links to some of the worst sectarian violence in post-independence India make him a hate-figure for many Muslims and secularists.
He is blamed by some rights groups for turning a blind eye to the unrest in which as many as 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.
His main rival in Gujarat is the left-leaning Congress party, which runs the federal government and is dominated by the Gandhi dynasty which has run India for most of its post-independence history.
Rahul Gandhi, the next-in-line who might face Modi in the 2014 national polls, has campaigned locally where he accused his rival of being autocratic and ignoring the poor in the home state of late independence hero Mahatma Gandhi.
“He wants to hear only his own voice. He has his dream and he thinks only about his own dream,” Gandhi told supporters on Tuesday.
The final phase of the balloting is scheduled for Dec. 17, with counting to take place three days later.
Some 100,000 security personnel including federal troopers are on duty at around 45,000 polling stations — some 17,000 of which are labeled “vulnerable” to violence — the state home department said.
On Wednesday, Modi was back in the headlines after claiming the federal government was set to “hand over” a disputed strip of water in Gujarat to neighbor Pakistan.