Ahmedabad: Millions voted Gujarat today as exit polls predicted Narendra Singh Modi’s being re-elected.
More than 18 million people are eligible to vote for 95 seats in the state’s 182-member legislature in the second and last stage of the polls.
Elections for 87 seats were held on Tuesday, when nearly 60% of 17.9 million voters eligible cast ballots. Results are expected next Sunday, with the controversial chief minister Narendra Modi expected to be re-elected.
The campaign has been overshadowed by renewed allegations that Modi encouraged anti-Muslim riots in 2002 where at least 2,000 people were hacked, burnt and shot to death.
Exit polls from the first round have said that the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -- to which Modi belongs -- would win re-election but see its majority cut.
Of the 87 seats up for grabs on Tuesday, the BJP was expected to see its share cut from 54 to between 40 and 48 due to gains by Congress, which governs India at the federal level, television news channels said, quoting exit polls.
The 2002 riots which mainly targeted Muslims erupted after 59 Hindu pilgrims died in a train fire first blamed on a Muslim mob but which an inquiry later concluded was accidental.
“Modi is our only choice. He is the star of Gujarat,” said 35-year-old businessman Mayank Patel as he waited to vote in the state’s main city Ahmedabad.“He is the saviour of Hindu religion.”
A few kilometres away, the mood is different. “Modi has made us widows and our children are orphans, that’s the great work he’s done,” said Fatima Begum, a Muslim resident of the city’s Juhapura area. “I want him to face defeat forever.”
The charismatic Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remain favourites to win the state despite exit polls after the first round of voting in southern districts showed he had lost seats to the rival Congress party.
It’s expected to be a close fight, but analysts say Modi’s Hindu-revivalist, anti-Muslim message still resonates in many of the central and northern regions voting on Sunday, and that could carry him home for a third term in office.
A total of 18.7 million people are eligible to vote in 95 constituencies on Sunday, out of 182 in the state. Results are expected on Dec. 23.
Gujarat, one of India’s richest and fastest growing states but also one of its most communally divided, is being closely watched as a barometer of the fortunes of the country’s two main parties ahead of national elections.
They are due by mid-2009 but could come earlier with the Congress-led ruling coalition in New Delhi wobbling under pressure from key communist allies who oppose a nuclear energy deal with the United States.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi branded Modi’s government “merchants of death.”
Modi, who grabbed 127 of the 182 seats in the state assembly last time round, shot back, accusing the Congress government of being soft on Muslim terrorists, and apparently justifying the extra-judicial killing of a Muslim man.
The Supreme Court and the independent election commission are investigating.