AHMEDABAD, India, April 30 (Reuters) - Police opened an
investigation against Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, tipped to
be India's next prime minister, after he flashed his party's
symbol and made a speech in a violation of election rules after
he cast his ballot.
About 139 million people were registered to vote in the
eighth round of a marathon contest pitting Modi against the
ruling Congress party, led by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. Results
are due on May 16.
Voting in his home state of Gujarat, the opposition leader,
whose pro-business policies have delighted investors, brandished
a white cutout of a lotus flower and made a scathing speech
against Congress heavyweights - taunting them for shying away
from the fight.
"The prime minister himself is not fighting the election.
The finance minister is not fighting the election. All its top
leaders have run away," Modi said to cheers from a crowd at the
polling station in the state's largest city, Ahmedabad.
He snapped a "selfie" of the lotus and his finger painted
with ink after voting, and posted the photograph on Twitter.
Election rules say politicians must not make public rallies
or use media to "display to the public any election matter"
within 48 hours of an election.
Gujarat police chief PC Thakur said a preliminary case was
launched against Modi at the request of the election commission.
"The Ahmedabad crime branch has begun investigations," he said.
The maximum punishment for violating the rule is two years
imprisonment, although Modi is unlikely to be charged.
Politicians in India routinely face criminal cases that rarely
reach the courts.
Standing in both the Gujarat town of Vadodara and the holy
city of Varanasi, Modi has shaken up Indian politics with a
campaign that has combined a social media blitz with up to five
rallies a day. The 63-year-old has even appeared as a hologram
campaigning in remote hamlets.
Turnout in Gujarat was 62 percent on Wednesday, according
to the election commission, a sharp rise on the state's tally of
48 percent in the last general election in 2009. India has seen
higher voter turnout across most states so far in the staggered
Opinion polls give a coalition led by Modi's Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) a strong lead and predict the worst ever
result for Congress, which led India to independence from
Britain in 1947 and has dominated politics ever since.
But most surveys predict the BJP will fall short of the 272
seats needed for a parliamentary majority, meaning it will need
to find allies. The size of the shortfall will determine whether
a Modi government can pass free market reforms aimed at reviving
the economy, or be constrained by protectionist allies.
The BJP "will almost certainly beat the Congress," said Nida
Ali of Oxford Economics.
"Now they are trying to maximize the number of seats they
can get, so they are not hindered by other parties. If they can
get a majority, that would help in decision-making."
Indian shares have risen 6.5 percent in 2014
through Tuesday, outperforming the 0.5 percent drop in the MSCI
emerging equities index, on expectations the
industry-friendly BJP would score an emphatic win. But shares
have cooled of late as traders turned cautious ahead of election
The results of Indian elections are notoriously hard to
predict, with bloc voting by caste and religion. Dramatic
last-minute swings can confound experts: opinion polls got the
result wrong in 2004.
In a reminder of the difficulties in converting Modi's
popularity into seats, Arun Jaitley, a possible future finance
minister, risks losing a contest in the state of Punjab over
anger with the state government headed by a BJP ally.
The BJP's president, Rajnath Singh, also faces a tough fight
in Lucknow, capital of the big state of Uttar Pradesh, where
voters lined up at schools on Wednesday despite the blazing
The election remains Modi's to lose, however, and in recent
days several senior Congress leaders have appeared to concede
that prospects are gloomy. Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said
on Monday that "crucial mistakes" were made as public anger over
corruption rose in 2010 and 2011.
The Congress party has governed for two terms and oversaw
some of India's fastest ever growth, but lost popularity as the
economy slowed and rampant graft was uncovered.
Chidambaram himself chose not to contest this election, a
decision seen by many as a sign of weakness, while Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh is retiring.
A top adviser to Congress president Sonia Gandhi told the
Times of India on Monday that the party would consider backing a
non-BJP coalition led by a different party to stop Modi.
The party has since distanced itself from the comments.
"The Congress party and its allies will form the next
government at the centre," said Shakeel Ahmed, a party general
Congress waged a lacklustre campaign, led by Rahul Gandhi,
the great-grandson of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal
Nehru. Gandhi's mother, Sonia, has also been a prominent
campaigner, as has his sister. Some party leaders have even
hinted that a spell in opposition would be welcomed.
Modi wants to break the hold of the dynasty on Indian
politics once and for all. He appealed to voters to put a strong
government in place.
"The voting that has happened has achieved two things. One,
the mother-son government is gone. Second, a new government with
a strong foundation will be in place," he said.
(Additional reporting by Sruthi Gottipati, Manoj Kumar, Rajesh
Kumar Singh, Shyamantha Asokan and Malini Menon in NEW DELHI and
Sharat Pradhan in LUCKNOW; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing
by Douglas Busvine and Robert Birsel)