All eyes will be on the election commission (EC) on Friday as it counts around 550 million votes cast in the Lok Sabha elections that are widely expected to return the BJP to power.
Vote counting will begin at 8am and will bring the curtains down on Mandate 2014 that began on March 5. A record 66.4% people turned out to cast their ballot in nine phases of the world’s biggest vote held between April 7 and May 12.
EC officials are in for a daunting task by all standards, considering that around a million people will be engaged in the counting activity and half a million security personnel would be there to ensure that it happens without any hassles.
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Workers at the flower-festooned New Delhi headquarters of the BJP passed around sweets and chanted tributes to Modi on Thursday.
BJP workers said they brought in two car-loads of fireworks, while confectioner Hari Gyan Singh told AFP he had prepared around 2.5 tonne ‘laddoos’.
Modi, who will be flying to Delhi on the morning of May 17, will travel to Varanasi, where he is contesting, after attending the meeting of the party's highest decision-making body and will hold a thanks-giving for the people of the holy town in the form of a major roadshow, if voted to power.
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Anti-corruption crusader and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal is pitted against Modi in the city and would be seeking to replicate his electoral triumph in last year's Delhi assembly polls. Kejriwal will take a flight to Varanasi from Delhi on Friday morning.
The election commission has banned victory processions in Varanasi, where Modi is a candidate, and throughout the electorally critical state of Uttar Pradesh.
The state's chief election official, Umesh Sinha, said the decision was "ultimately aimed at maintaining law and order in the state".
Uttar Pradesh is one of the most sensitive states. Communal violence in UP’s Muzaffarnagar district last September left around 60 people dead and forced thousands to flee their homes. The ruling Congress party, expected to face a resounding defeat after 10 years in power, has warned that a BJP victory will stoke interreligious tensions.
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Modi was taking a break from months of relentless campaigning on Thursday and was staying in his home state of Gujarat which he has run since 2001 as chief minister.
Sources in his administration said he would seek the blessing of his mother Hiraba on Thursday before addressing public meetings in his Gujarat constituency of Vadodara and Ahmedabad.
The BJP's previous best showing was in elections in 1998 and 1999 when it won 182 seats and ran the country until a shock defeat at the hands of the Congress in 2004.
“People have voted for development and progress. People are restless for change. They will feel liberated once results are announced,” BJP spokesman Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.
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Most exit polls showed the BJP’s gain in seats rode on a rising vote share, overtaking that of the Congress for the first time. For instance, the CNN-IBN poll put the BJP’s vote share at 34%, up 20 percentage points, against Congress’ 25.5%.
Exit polls – or survey of voters as they come out of polling booths to find out whom they voted — have a mixed track record, given the diversity of India’s electorate, with predictions going awry at times. In 2004, pollsters had wrongly predicted an NDA win.
A total of 8,251 candidates, including 668 women and five transgenders, contested the Lok Sabha battle. The contestants included 3,234 independents.
Friday's results will determine the political fortunes of India's virtual who is who, including BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi (Vadodara, Varanasi), Congress leaders including Sonia Gandhi (Rae Bareli), Rahul Gandhi (Amethi), SP leader Mulayam Singh (Mainpuri, Azamgarh), JD-U leader Sharad Yadav (Madhepura), BJP leaders Arun Jaitley (Amritsar), Rajnath Singh (Lucknow), and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal (Varanasi).
Initial trends will be available rapidly on Friday. The final tally in the Lok Sabha will be more or less clear by midday. But most results will be known only by evening, a poll official said.
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As polling ended in various constituencies spread over nine rounds, the 1.72 million electronic voting machines (EVMs) were put in strongrooms across the country and placed under heavy security.
The counting centres – mostly in close proximity to EVM store rooms – are being manned by the central paramilitary forces, home ministry officials said.
In addition, about half a million police personnel from the states will also be deployed besides the local administration sanitising areas near the counting centres.
“We are fully prepared for the last big thing (counting),” said a senior EC functionary, adding that specific instructions have been issued to the returning officers of the 543 Lok Sabha seats for seamless counting of votes. “No unauthorised person is allowed within 100 metres of a counting centre.”
Those with gun-toting security personnel will not be allowed inside the counting centres even if they hold top positions in the government.
Candidates having security cover would be allowed if they voluntarily leave their security personnel behind. The only exception to the rule would be those enjoying SPG protection, such as Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is contesting from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
The EC has advised the candidates not to nominate elected representatives or government officials as their counting agents, who would be allowed entry at 989 counting centres set up across India an hour before the exercise starts.
It would be a long day for the counting personnel, beginning around 4am. In a couple of hours, they would be allocated counting tables in different halls through a draw of lots. By eight in the morning, counting will start with postal ballots. EC officials expect the fate of about 8,251 candidates to be decided in the next 8-12 hours.
“Normally, the delay in announcing final results happens if a candidate seeks re-counting and the returning officer agrees with it,” an official said.
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The majority of counting centres will have broadband connectivity for seamless flow of trends after each round of counting to an EC control room at Nirvachan Bhawan in Delhi.To ensure that trends and results from counting centres are available on the Election Commission’s website on a real-time basis, the National Informatics Centre – the government’s information technology arm – has provided additional servers to the poll panel.