Vote twice, urges Indian minister

New Delhi - An Indian cabinet minister found himself at the centre of a vote-rigging row Monday, after he asked supporters to vote twice for his party in elections which begin next month.

Speaking at a rally on Sunday, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar urged voters to wash off the ink which would be daubed on their fingers after casting their ballots and then go to a different constituency and vote again for his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

India's Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath gestures while speaking with the media during a news conference to announce election dates in New Delhi on March 5, 2014. Picture: Anindito Mukherjee. Credit: Reuters

After pointing out that voting in two neighbouring parts of Maharashtra state was taking place on different days, Pawar told supporters in the state: “Vote for the 'Clock' (his party's symbol) there and come back to vote for the 'Clock' here as well,” he said to loud laughter.

The comments were seized upon by a number of rivals in the elections which begin April 7, including the anti-corruption Aam Aadmi Party.

That party said it would complain to the Election Commission over the “blatant contravention” of its code of conduct.

Pawar, currently an ally of the ruling Congress party but who has been flirting with the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, later tried to laugh off his remarks, saying they were meant as “a joke”.

“Party workers get bored with the same cliched electoral speeches. The statement which I made earlier in the day was in lighter vein,” he added.

NCP spokesman D.P. Tripathi said he was confident that the Election Commission would understand “these were not serious comments.”

“We are confident that they (the Election Commission) are very mature and will realise the context of the statement,” Tripathi told AFP.

However, later in the day the Election Commission said Pawar appeared to have violated its code of conduct.

In a statement posted on its website, the commission also asked the veteran leader to explain his statements by Wednesday evening.

Polls show corruption is one of the most pressing concerns for voters in the world's biggest democracy, which will hold elections for its 543-member parliament in nine phases until May 12.