NEW DELHI : Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended his first press conference in his five-year tenure at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarters on Friday as campaigning for the seven-phased Lok Sabha elections drew to an end.

All eyes are now on the last phase of polling on Sunday and the subsequent exit polls.

Although Modi declined to take questions—officially, it was party president Amit Shah’s press conference with Modi merely attending it—the Prime Minister, in his statement, was optimistic about the outcome of the elections and maintained that the BJP would be able to comfortably form a government after the results are announced on 23 May.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi took a dig at Modi for not taking questions. “Congratulations Modi Ji. Excellent Press Conference! Showing up is half the battle. Next time Mr Shah may even allow you to answer a couple of questions. Well done!" Gandhi tweeted after the press conference.

(Sarvesh Kumar Sharma/Mint)

Opposition parties under the leadership of the Congress have also started reaching out to regional parties in the hope of forming a government at the centre.

With the election schedule being announced on 10 March by the Election Commission (EC), the election cycle lasted well over two months. The poll body came under unprecedented fire from opposition parties for allegedly acting at the behest of the ruling BJP in curtailing the campaign duration in West Bengal. The opposition parties have accused the EC of keeping the deadline at 10pm on Wednesday so that Modi could address BJP rallies scheduled at Mathurapur and Dum Dum in the state earlier in the day.

“The EC’s role in these polls has been biased and it has issued orders keeping in mind Prime Minister Modi’s schedule," said Gandhi at a press conference in New Delhi.

He also said that the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party were ideologically on the same page and have the common aim of dislodging Modi.

Polling for the seventh phase will be held on Sunday in 59 parliamentary seats in Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, the Union territory of Chandigarh, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. Modi’s constituency, Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, will also vote in the last phase.

At the press conference, Modi said the new government would continue to work for the poor and socially weaker sections. “It’s after a long time that a full majority government will return to power by getting majority again. People have decided to form a full majority government again," Modi said.

Party president Amit Shah told reporters that the BJP would get more than 300 seats in the Lok Sabha polls and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) would get a bigger majority in the elections.

Shah also said that the PM spoke at 142 public meetings and held four road shows to reach out to more than 15 million people. Modi covered more than 100,000 km through his campaign.

“When the BJP came to power in 2014, we had governments in six states... we now have governments in 16 states. People no longer worry about national security, agriculture growth and infrastructure development. Corruption and price rise did not become an election issue for the first time," said Shah.

The Lok Sabha elections was also the first time Gandhi decided to contest from two seats—his traditional bastion of Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, and Wayanad in Kerala, in an attempt to boost his party’s presence in south India.

Even as the BJP maintains that the NDA government did not face any corruption allegation in its tenure, Congress, along with opposition parties, tried to corner the government over alleged mishandling of the Rafale fighter aircraft deal with France.

“Why did the PM not accept my challenge for debate on Rafale. Congress’ role as opposition party has been ‘A’ grade. Congress has tried to protect institutions from PM Modi and BJP," said Gandhi. “We closed 90% doors for Narendra Modi, he closed 10% for himself by abusing opponents."

The 2019 election campaign was marked by war of words between leaders of parties across the political spectrum. The EC had to step in a number of times in such cases by imposing temporary bans on campaigning by certain politicians.

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