Pakistan appeared to warm up to Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial candidate from the Bhartiya Janata Party and a leading contender to become India's next prime minister, as several states and large cities like Mumbai and Chennai went to the polls Thursday.
Abdul Basit, the new Pakistani high commissioner, said Wednesday that he was "encouraged" by Modi's approach to Pakistan, referring to the BJP leader's remarks of having “mutual respect” for each other. Basit's remarks are significant given the strained relationships between the two countries and Modi's controversial role in the communal riots that shook his home state of Gujarat in 2002. On Thursday, voting entered its sixth phase with 180 million voters expected to vote for more than 2,000 candidates in 12 states and union territories, including Mumbai, the nation's financial capital.
"I have seen all the statements and remarks (by Modi and his party) but the best statement came last night from the prime ministerial candidate and I feel much more encouraged. His (Modi) response when a question was asked about Pakistan was very positive and that gives us hope that positive things will come. ... I am indeed encouraged," Basit said, according to Times News Network, a national news agency.
Observers and political analysts have speculated about how successful a government run by the center-right BJP might be in mending relations with Pakistan. However, despite skepticism about the BJP's record on race relations, various polls across the country expect a sweeping win for Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, which has seen significant economic reform on his watch.
On Thursday, the western state of Rajasthan on the Pakistan border, had seen a voter turnout of 47 percent while the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh had 50 percent of its voters come out to vote by 3:30 p.m. local time (6 a.m. EDT). In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the country's most populous and home to Amethi, a major support base for the Congress party's Rahul Gandhi, the polling percentage was estimated to be about 47 percent by 3:00 p.m. The state of Maharashtra had seen one of the lowest voter turnouts so far in the election with only 36 percent residents having cast their votes, while in Mumbai, the voter turnout was recorded to be about 36 percent by 3 p.m.
Meanwhile, an isolated incident of violence was reported in the northeastern state of Assam, where a policeman was killed when supporters of a candidate attacked a group of security personnel. The state, which also went to polls Thursday, had seen a 55 percent voter turnout by 3 p.m. local time, according to Hindustan Times, or HT, a national newspaper. In Tamil Nadu, voter turnout stood at 60 percent, while the northern states of Bihar and Chattisgarh, two of India's most economically backward states, saw about half of its voters come out to vote, according to HT. Voters in West Bengal, on the country's east coast, seemed to display more enthusiasm for the process, with a nearly 80 percent turnout by 5 p.m.