India (HRNW): Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cast his vote in his home state of Gujarat in the third phase of the country’s general election. He led what appeared to be a roadshow on his way to the polling booth in Ahmedabad, the city he lived in during his 13 years as chief minister. He waved at the crowds that had gathered from an open-top jeep, which had replaced his usual bulletproof car. Mr Modi is contesting from Varanasi, which goes to the polls on 19 May. Around 180 million people are eligible to vote on Tuesday – 117 seats spread across 15 states and union territories are up for grabs. It is the largest stage of the whole election, which is being seen as a referendum on Mr Modi, who has been in power since 2014.
It’s also important for Mr Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as Gujarat is his home state and where his political career began. Mr Modi won his first parliamentary seat from Vadodadara in Gujarat in 2014 – but he vacated it as he also contested and won Varanasi. On Tuesday morning, Mr Modi first travelled to the capital city of Gandhinagar to meet his mother before going to Ahmedabad to vote. After voting in the seat of Ranip, he walked down the street along with a local BJP candidate. He was surrounded by his bodyguards as he displayed his inked finger and waved at people. India’s main opposition leader, Rahul Gandhi, is appearing on the ballot in Wayanad in the southern state of Kerala for the first time. A win here is important to the Congress party, but Mr Gandhi is also standing in Amethi, his long-time constituency in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. He will be on the ballot there on 6 May and if he wins both seats, he will vacate one of them.
The Wayanad seat is considered “safe” for Congress: the party has won the two elections held there since the seat’s creation in 2009. But Amethi is Mr Gandhi’s family stronghold. He has been an MP for the region since 2004 and his mother, father and uncle have all won it during their careers. So his decision to stand in Wayanad – a lush, hilly area in the Western Ghats – was met with surprise. Congress has said it is a “message to southern states that they are deeply valued and respected”. But opponents wondered aloud if this meant Mr Gandhi is unsure of winning Amethi. After all, his margin of victory in 2014 – a little over 100,000 votes – was seen as too close. Mr Modi may not be on the ballot but there is still a lot interest in various seats – including Gandhinagar, where party president Amit Shah is contesting.
Among those hoping to unseat him is Vejli Rathod, a Dalit (formerly untouchable) man who says he is still waiting for charges to be brought following his son’s death in a police shooting back in 2012. Fed up, he decided to run against Mr Shah, one of India’s most powerful politicians. “Victory may come and go, but I am fighting against Amit Shah for justice,” Mr Rathod told media Gujarati. Election-watchers are also likely to take an interest in Congress’s 37-year-old Sherkhan Pathan, the state’s only Muslim candidate. Muslims account for around 9% of the state’s population, but Gujarat has not elected a Muslim MP since 1984. Only three of the five Muslim candidates who contested state polls in December won. However, Mr Pathan argues that it isn’t his religion which won him his place on the ballot. “I’ve been chosen to run because I’m young and represent a wide variety of voters here – not because I’m Muslim,” Mr Pathan told media.