Karnataka election

Claims of dirty tricks cast pall over voting

An election official putting indelible ink on a voter's finger at a polling station in Bangalore yesterday.
An election official putting indelible ink on a voter's finger at a polling station in Bangalore yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BANGALORE • Claims of dirty tricks made by India's two main parties cast a cloud over voting in a key Indian state yesterday after nearly 10,000 voting cards were seized by the election authorities.

The opposition Congress party, which has dominated Indian politics in the seven decades since independence, is fighting to retain its last major state, Karnataka, amid a fierce battle with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Hindu nationalist party.

Voting was postponed in one constituency after the discovery of the voting cards, which the authorities suspect were obtained through bribes. Police have launched an investigation.

The state election commission said there was a plot to "vitiate the poll process" in Rajarajeshwari Nagar district of the state capital Bangalore.

Congress and Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused each other of the fraud. Voting in the district was pushed back to May 28.

Tens of thousands of security personnel were deployed across the state of 65 million people for voting. The results, which will have a major impact on campaigning for a national election next year, are to be announced on Tuesday.

A rainstorm last Friday again exposed Bangalore's over-stretched infrastructure, resulting in traffic snarls, waterlogging and overflowing drains.

The two parties urged voters to brave the weather disruption and turn out in force.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi appealed to party workers to "provide all possible assistance to those affected by heavy rains".

"Our polling booth teams must remain alert and must help voters facing difficulties in reaching polling booths," he said in a statement on Twitter.

Mr Modi also sought to rally supporters as some voters complained of having to wade through muddy pools to get to voting stations.

The two leaders have embarked on an angry campaign, targeting each other with personal attacks. Issues such as the state's infrastructure crisis have barely featured - to the frustration of residents.

"As a Bangalore resident, I want the next government to come and address the issue of waste and women's security as a priority," said Mr Shashi Kumar as he voted in north Bangalore.

Congress is anxious to reverse its political fortunes so it can mount a strong challenge in next year's election. If it loses Karnataka, it will have only two small states, Mizoram and Punjab, and the small territory of Puducherry, which together account for about 2.5 percent of India's population of 1.25 billion.

The BJP and its allies hold states that make up about 70 per cent of the population.

But Mr Modi's party needs a breakthrough in southern India.

The Prime Minister has faced allegations of bias towards the northern regions, where his Hindu nationalist BJP is dominant.

Mr Modi has focused his campaign on national pride, the economy and his aggressive foreign policy.

He has also attacked Mr Gandhi's Italian ancestry and the family's privileged background. Mr Gandhi's mother Sonia is Italian and the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty has provided three prime ministers since 1947.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 13, 2018, with the headline 'Claims of dirty tricks cast pall over voting '. Print Edition | Subscribe