India’s marathon election ends | THE DAILY TRIBUNE | KINGDOM OF BAHRAIN

India’s marathon election ends

Voting ended yesterday in India’s marathon election that will decide whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi gets a second term in power. As the final polling booths closed, a huge security cordon was thrown around the voting machines and boxes of paper ballots used for the world’s biggest election before the official count starts on Thursday. Several early exit polls released by Indian media predicted that Modi’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will lose seats but with allies would still secure a majority of the 542 seats fought.

The opposition Congress party was predicted to more than double its 2014 tally of 42 seats. The polls have in the past been notoriously unreliable, however, adding to the political jitters. Tens of thousands of police and paramilitaries were on duty in West Bengal state -- a symbol of the mounting tensions between the BJP and opposition parties during the six weeks of voting that has focused on Modi’s record since his landslide win five years ago. Long queues formed outside polling stations across the eastern state but the BJP and its rivals again accused each other of using violence, fraud and intimidation.

An improvised bomb was thrown at one Kolkata polling station and security forces intervened to stop BJP, communist and other groups blocking different booths across the state capital that was hit by two days of street battles last week. Conjoined twins Sabah and Farah voted in the city of Patna in eastern Bihar state and 102-year-old Shyam Saran Negi, who has taken part in every vote since independence in 1947, cast his ballot in mountainous Himachal Pradesh state, highlighting the huge diversity of the exercise. Modi’s constituency in Varanasi, the Hindu holy city in northern Uttar Pradesh state, was also among those to vote.

$7 billion outlay

The Delhi-based Centre for Media Studies estimates that the outlay on this election could top $7 billion, making it one of the priciest contests globally -- with the lion’s share of the spending by the BJP trying to woo India’s 900 million eligible voters.

Lots of it has been spent on social media, with the parties using armies of “cyber warriors” to bombard India’s hundreds of millions of Facebook and WhatsApp users with messages. Fake news and doctored images have abounded, including of Gandhi and Modi having lunch with Imran Khan, prime minister of arch rival Pakistan, or of a drunk Priyanka Gandhi, a politician and the sister of Rahul.