NEW DELHI Opposition leader Narendra Modi sharpened his attack on India's election authorities on Thursday, accusing them of discrimination in barring him from holding rallies to back his candidacy in the River Ganges holy city of Varanasi.
Veranasi goes to the polls on Monday, the final day of India's mammoth general election. Results are due next Friday.
"With full responsibility, I'm accusing India's election commission of discrimination," Modi told supporters at another rally in the electorally crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, where one in every six Indian voters lives.
The independent monitoring agency is widely credited for ensuring free and fair elections in India, in which 815 million voters have been called to the polls over five weeks.
The election commission's head, V.S. Sampath, rejected Modi's allegation, saying it was determined to act impartially and was not afraid of any political party.
Certain parties were making "harsh and sweeping allegations" against the agency, Sampath said in a rare televised news conference.
Polls show Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) winning the most seats in the election, although it may need to recruit allies to secure a parliamentary majority.
The party has grown increasingly critical of the election commission as campaign efforts are funneled into the seats still up for grabs, accusing it of being partial and not deploying enough central security forces at polling booths.
On Thursday, BJP leaders wearing orange caps emblazoned with "Modi for PM" logos held protests both in Varanasi and the capital New Delhi, alleging that the agency was blocking Modi from campaigning in Varanasi.
The commission said that officials and police had raised security concerns regarding Modi's rally which it could not ignore. It had granted permission for an alternative location, the agency said.
Candidates from both the BJP and the ruling Congress party, led by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, have been rapped on the knuckles for campaign infractions in the run-up to elections.
More recently, police have opened an investigation against Modi after he flashed his party's symbol and made a speech on April 30 after casting his vote in Vadodara, in his home state of Gujarat, in violation of election rules.
Modi is running in two constituencies, as election rules allow, and would resign one if elected in both.
"The overall job done by the election commission has been a tremendous job, a splendid job," said P. Chidambaram, finance minister and a senior leader of the ruling Congress party.
He blamed the stand-off between the election commission and the BJP on the rival party "getting a bit desperate".
(Reporting By Sruthi Gottipati; Additional reporting by Malini Menon; Editing by Douglas Busvine & Kim Coghill)