Indian politicians used the last day of official campaigning to stake their claim for seats in the holy city of Varanasi, as the world’s biggest democracy entered the final phase of its national election.
Rahul Gandhi, of the ruling Congress Party, on Saturday sought to muster a final show of support for Ajay Rai, the party’s candidate in the city on the Ganges.
However, Congress is facing defeat with the popular leader of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, Narendra Modi, standing in the same constituency
Arvind Kejriwal, the leader of the Aam Aadmi Party and the third main candidate in Varanasi, drew huge crowds on Friday for a speech in which he said he was confident of “a huge majority”.
Varanasi is one of the constituencies to vote in Monday’s final leg of polling. The broader national battle is between Congress and the BJP. Results are due next Friday.
Amit Shah, a top BJP organiser, said the electorate had supported the BJP “irrespective” of caste and religion, as he sought to dispel notions that Modi’s muscular Hindu nationalism was a stumbling block for voters.
In the last days of campaigning, Modi has sought to cast off his polarising image and the BJP’s religion-based reputation, pushing an agenda of good governance and growth.
“I believe in one India, the best India,” said Modi, the chief minister of thriving Gujarat who is popular among business and middle-class voters.
The Gandhi family and Congress have been making a last-ditch campaign push. South Asia’s most famous political dynasty has given India three leaders since independence in 1947.
Shah forecast the BJP and allies would get 300 seats in the 543-seat parliament. Opinion polls also suggest the BJP is on track to win the most seats.