New Delhi: India's general elections finally concluded Monday, with the country this year setting a new record for overall voter turnout at 66.38 per cent in the mammoth nine-phase polls which began on April 7.
The figure beats a previous record set in 1984 when Congress party's Rajiv Gandhi rode a sympathy wave to come to power following the assassination of his mother and the country's first woman prime minister, Indira Gandhi, by her Sikh bodyguards.
The country's independent Election Commission announced the record figures Monday, after close of polling in 41 parliamentary constituencies across three states, including the prestigious seat of Varanasi in UP, on the last day of the polls.
In fact, all these three states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal also played to script. Only West Bengal, which had a huge 82 per cent turnout in the last general elections in 2009, saw a small dip at 81.77 per cent.
Hailing the record voter turnout, BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi tweeted: "The biggest joy of 2014 Elections has been the increased turnout. Braving the scorching heat and the rain people turned out in large numbers."
Polling was also more or less peaceful in these three states, barring stray poll-related violence in West Bengal where several people sustained injuries as workers of the eastern state's ruling Trinamool Congress and the opposition CPM clashed.
However, since Monday morning, all eyes were on Varanasi. The star constituency was the chosen battlefield of 63-year-old Modi and the former civil servant-turned politician Arvind Kejriwal, also the anti-graft Aam Aadmi Party chief.
Varanasi was, in fact, turned into a virtual fortress with thousands of security personnel deployed to ensure peaceful polling for the parliamentary seat for which 42 candidates were in the fray, including Congress party's local leader Ajay Rai.
Varanasi, the world's oldest living city on the banks of the Ganges river, has long been neglected despite its religious significance and its infrastructure needs repair. Both Modi and Kejriwal have promised the city's development if elected.
Experts say that higher voter turnout indicates voting against the incumbent party, that is, the Congress, being led by Nehru-Gandhi scion and party chief Sonia Gandhi's son Rahul Gandhi.
"The Congress is entangled in a series of corruption scandals and the AAP is no match for BJP. So, it's a clear majority for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance even as exit polls indicate the same," said Prof R.K. Ghose of Delhi University.
The results of the general elections will be announced on May 16. And, opinion polls have suggested that the BJP will form the next government, with Modi as the prime minister, as the Congress party has failed to tackle corruption and inflation.