India election campaign ends with conflicting visions

NEW DELHI: Ruling Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi warned Saturday of an India divided by caste and creed if the Hindu nationalist opposition wins power, as campaigning ended in the nation’s multi-stage election.

Gandhi sought to muster a final show of Congress strength in the holy Hindu city of Varanasi with the party struggling to snatch victory from the jaws of a widely forecast election defeat by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP “only wants to divide people, make people fight each other,” Gandhi told a rally in temple-studded Varanasi, one of the last constituencies due to vote in Monday’s final day of balloting.

The results of the marathon election will be known Friday.

Varanasi is being contested by Narendra Modi, a charismatic but divisive politician who is tipped to lead the BJP to power after a decade in opposition and be India’s next prime minister.

Modi, an indefatigable campaigner who has travelled 300,000 kilometres (180,000 miles) in the last eight months speaking to 437 rallies — in addition to addressing 1,350 rallies as a hologram — according to the BJP.

Modi’s high-tech campaign is believed to mark the first time holograms have been used to reach voters in an Indian election campaign.

Modi, projecting himself as a political outsider who will overhaul India’s political status quo, launched a blistering attack Saturday on the Gandhi dynasty a dominant governing force for most of India’s history since independence from Britain.