Polling stations in India closed at 8:00 a.m. EDT Monday as the country wrapped its monumental national election.
With 814 million eligible voters, the election is thought to be the largest in the world, with voting taking place in stages over a six week period. Results are expected on May 16, and Election Commissions officials have recorded the highest voter turnout in the nation’s history: 66.38 percent.
Exit polls predict that the Hindu nationalist candidate, Narendra Modi of the Bharatiya Janata Party, is the likely winner — although elections are notoriously hard to predict in India. Modi has run a highly public media-savvy campaign highlighting issues including inflation and vowing to create more jobs. He is a right-leaning leader with a rags-to-riches story, starting out as a chai wallah at a train station and eventually becoming the chief minister of the Northwestern state of Gujarat. His accomplishments stand in stark contrast to those of Rahul Gandhi, the privileged heir to the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty. Gandhi is running for the Indian National Congress party which currently holds a majority of the parliament but in recent months has been characterized by corruption and nepotism.
Still, Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Aadmi Party is giving Modi a run for his money, engaging in extensive grassroots campaigning which has capitalized on the public outrage over corruption scandals. Should Modi not gain a majority on Friday he will need to make a coalition with some of India’s regional parties. A majority of 272 is needed to form a government in India’s parliamentary system.
The state of Uttar Pradesh has become the site of frenzied political campaigning. It is seen as the Ohio of India — a key battleground state which is home to the religious city of Varanasi and will be crucial for any party’s victory.
Religious differences continue to play a huge role in this year’s election. For many, Modi remains a highly controversial candidate because of the sectarian riots which occurred under his rule in 2002. He has been criticized for failing to prevent the violence there that led to the deaths of more than 2000 people—most of them Muslim. His Hindu campaign has made many Muslims and those hoping for a more secular India uneasy as the country looks towards its growing role on the global stage.