India minister asks people to vote twice; insists it's a joke

NEW DELHI (AFP) - An Indian Cabinet minister found himself at the centre of a vote-rigging row on Monday after he asked supporters to vote twice for his party in elections which begin next month.

Speaking at a rally on Sunday, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar urged voters to wash off the ink which would be daubed on their fingers after they cast their ballots and then go to a different constituency and vote again for his National Congress Party.

After pointing out that voting in two neighbouring parts of Maharashtra was taking place on different days, he told supporters in the state: "Vote for the 'Clock' (his party's symbol) there and come back to vote for the 'Clock' here as well," he said to loud laughter.

The comments were seized on by a number of rivals in the elections, which begin on April 7, including the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party which said it would complain to the electoral commission over the "blatant contravention" of its code of conduct.

Mr Pawar, currently an ally of the main ruling Congress Party but who has been flirting with the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, later tried to laugh off his remarks, saying they were meant as "a joke".

"Party workers get bored with the same cliched electoral speeches. The statement which I made earlier in the day was in lighter vein," he added.

Polls show corruption is one of the biggest concerns for voters in the world's biggest democracy which will hold elections for its 543-member parliament in nine phases until May 12.

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