The 8th and penultimate phase of polling is now over. Barring couple of isolated events, voting was more or less peaceful in the 64 constituencies that went to polling in the 7 states. But throughout the day, entire focus was on Amethi with politicians ready to outrage at miniscule provocations. Midway through the day, the focus however shifted partially to the hue and cry over Modi’s rallies being cancelled in Varanasi. Thus by dint of fate, Narendra Modi managed to remain firmly in the limelight in yet another big election day.
Rahul Gandhi for the first time in his political career was present in Amethi on the polling day. Many attributed it to the perception that Gandhi scion is in a difficult wicket facing two spirited challengers in Kumar Vishwas and Smriti Irani. Rahul even had to face scorns from disgruntled voters in some booths.
Throughout the day, BJP and Congress leaders squabbled with each other. Smriti Irani repeatedly complained that Congress is resorting to booth capturing and intimidation in various places of Amethi. Kumar Vishwas also levelled similar charges and finally demanded repoll in 50 booths. But Election Commission rejected all such charges. Rahul Gandhi raised the issue of BJP’s lotus symbol being drawn in a blackboard in one of the booths!!
But major controversy started when pictures of Rahul Gandhi loitering in the polling booths and even getting close to the EVM surfaced. BJP cried hoarse saying that it is a violation of the Model Code of Conduct. EC however clarified that a candidate is well within his right to inspect any polling booth. But it said that nobody is allowed near EVM and stated that it is waiting for the reports regarding such complaints.
But BJP got the upper hand when Priyanka Gandhi’s personal secretary Priti Sahay was forced to leave Amethi after objections from Smriti Irani. According to rules only candidate and polling agents can stay in a constituency on the day of voting. Since Priti is neither a voter of Amethi nor an agent she was asked by EC to leave the area. It was a sweet victory for Smriti Irani after public snub from Priyanka Gandhi.
Beyond this virtual tu-tu-main-main in Amethi, elections took place reasonably peacefully in most places where camera lens didn’t bother to venture. In turnout, Bengal again took the lead with 81.28% in 6 seats, followed by Seemandhra that saw 76% polling in its 15 Lok Sabha seats. Uttar Pradesh saw 55.52% polling in the 15 Lok Sabha seats that went to polls, Uttarakhand registered 62% polling for 5 Lok Sabha seats and Himachal Pradesh 65% for 4 seats. The lowest polling among all the states was recorded in Jammu and Kashmir with a 49.98% voter turnout.
One person died in Bihar when police opened fire to stop a bid for booth capturing in Sitamarhi district. All eyes were also on Bengal after widespread allegations of rigging in the last phase. By all accounts voting went relatively peacefully though the opponents still cribbed about the “silent terror” by TMC in the Naxal affected constituencies. In Seemandhra region of Andhra Pradesh Assembly polls also took place simultaneously. Both YSRC lead by Jagan Reddy and TDP-BJP alliance led by Chandrababu Naidu accused each other of using money and muscle power to influence the voters. In Kashmir, there was complete boycott of the democratic exercise in Dobagh village, which was the native place of Afzal Guru.
Now, after the 8th phase, voting is over in 502 constituencies out of 543. The remaining seats will go to polls on 12th May. By all indications, a new record in voter turnout will be created eclipsing that of the famous wave elections in 84’.
Even with campaign in its closing stages, bickering between the political parties simply refuse to calm down. Election Commission willingly or unwillingly has also become a favourite whipping boy of all the political parties. Today it was the turn of BJP to express its wrath on EC. The provocation was returning officer of Varanasi cancelling all three Modi rallies in Varanasi on the pretext of security threat and pre booking. Modi was even disallowed from meeting prominent people of the area within the city and performing Ganga Arati. This led to an extremely angry reaction from BJP’s top brass.
Arun Jaitley seething against this supposed “injustice” nearly letter bombed the Election Commission. Jaitley said, “”When weak people sit in high positions, democracy is under threat.” The senior leader also remarked that India is not a banana republic where a Prime Ministerial candidate can’t campaign in his own constituency. He demanded immediate transfer of District Magistrate and Returning Officer of Varanasi. After a series of written protests, Jaitley asked EC not to process their application as it was too late to organise rallies by then.
BJP has decided to make it a major issue in the remaining 3 days of campaigning. Modi will now do a roadshow in Varanasi tomorrow. Jaitley and other top leaders will stage dharna in both Delhi and Varanasi to protest against Election Commission. EC giving a green signal to Rahul Gandhi’s rally in Varanasi on 10th further added salt to the saffron unit’s injury. Under fire from BJP, EC has now promised to take action against any officer if he is found guilty. But it has rejected the charge that there is any institutional bias. Later in the night, news came that Modi has been allowed to perform Ganga Arati.
In other news, Congress leader Rashid Alvi has written a letter to Narendra Modi. Apparently, he wants to look after Modi’s aged mother. Alvi said that he was distressed and pained seeing “crorepati” Modi’s mother living in a very small room and travelling by auto to cast her vote. Alvi has volunteered to provide material comfort to Modi’s mother to the best of his ability. Truly, Alvi has selected an ingenious way to garner some publicity.
Couple of Bihar BJP leaders also seems to be in the hunt for quick fame. They have separately filed complaints against Priyanka Gandhi for her “neechi rajneeti” barbs to Narendra Modi. The leaders have alleged that Priyanka’s remarks would promote enmity between groups and lead to breach of peace.
The no-holds barred fight between Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee is fast turning very ugly. Modi who did three rallies in Bengal attacked TMC government over various issues. Mamata reacted in a caustic way referring to Modi as “tui” (“tu” in Hindi, normally said in a demeaning manner). Didi said that if she desired Modi couldn’t have landed in Bengal!!
Earlier in Bihar, a stage collapsed during Modi’s rally in Sikandarpur leaving three people hurt. It was a stage constructed alongside the main dais.
In a breather to the saffron brigade, CBI has said that it does not have sufficient evidence against Modi’s Man Friday Amit Shah in the Ishrat Jahan encounter case. CBI had questioned Shah a couple of times in this much discussed case but failed to land any hard evidence to nail him. Congress sought to play down this development with Shashi Tharoor saying courts have still not exonerated Shah. Amit Shah still remains an accused in the Sohrabuddin encounter case.
These were all from today. We will bring you all the dope from the electoral battlefield again tomorrow.