High turnout marks sixth phase of elections in India

By Mubasshir Mushtaq and Zahid Rafiq, Thursday, April 24, 2014

Key states such as West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh see high number of voters.

Key states such as West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh see high number of voters.

NEW DELHI – Polls have closed in India in the sixth phase of national elections, with a high turnout recorded in most parts of the country. 

More than 50 percent of voters turned out to elect candidates for 117 seats in 11 states and one federal territory on Thursday.

In the eastern state of West Bengal, the turnout was as high as 83 percent while in western Maharashtra state, which Mumbai is part of, the rate was a more moderate 40 percent. 

In Indian-held Jammu and Kashmir, a voter boycott led to a turnout of only 25 percent.

The polls were marred by clashes between Indian armed forces in southern Indian-held Kashmir throughout the day.

Troops fired into the air and used smoke canisters to disrupt the protests while demonstrators threw stones.

The Southern state Tamil Nadu recorded a 60 percent turnout, while that in the western state of Maharashtra was a moderate 40 percent, where former federal law minister Ram Jethmalani threatened to sue the Election Commission as his name was missing from the voter list.

In Mumbai, which sends six lawmakers to India’s parliament, 53 percent of voters turned out, higher than the 2009 election.

- Policeman killed

After casting his vote early, Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter: “Most times I don’t even get to choose the channel I want to watch on tv. Today I have an opportunity to choose my country’s future. Awesome!”

Former cricket player Sachin Tendulkar, 41, wrote on Twitter: “I have voted, have you? A wonderful start to my birthday, as a responsible citizen of our great nation.”

In the northeastern state of Assam, one policeman was killed and another injured when a mob tried a capture a polling booth, leading the Border Security Force to open fire.

In northern Jharkhand state, security was beefed up after Maoist rebels issued a threat to boycott the national election in Dumka district.

Despite the call, at least 56 percent of the electorate voted in seven constituencies.

In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest and most populous state, 55 percent of people voted in 12 constituencies.

Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who is under scrutiny over his government’s handling of the September 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, said that the Samajwadi Party had done “good work” and he was confident of getting the maximum number of seats in the state.

In Bihar, another important northern state, 47 percent of the electorate voted for the seven seats.

- Media workers injured

There were reports of delays in polling in 20 booths as Electronic Voting Machines malfunctioned before being replaced by election commission officials.

The central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, a stronghold of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), recorded 59 percent turnout while the northwestern desert state of Rajasthan, another BJP-ruled state recorded 56 percent.

Rajasthan’s Dausa constituency witnessed clashes between police and villagers in which some media workers were injured and their cameras damaged.

A government vehicle was set on fire by a stone-throwing mob. 

The central state of Chhattisgarh, which is prone to Maoist attacks, recorded a 56 percent turnout in seven seats.  

Puducherry, the federal territory, recorded more than 70 percent voter for the lone constituency.

Modi, the front-runner to be the next prime minister, held a rally in the Varanasi constituency of northern state Uttar Pradesh as he filed his nomination papers in the holy city.

A major roadshow came as thousands of party workers and supporters showered rose petals on Modi, who sat in an open vehicle dressed in white.

“I feel as if the BJP has not sent me here ... but Ma Ganga (Mother Ganges) has summoned me. I pray for strength so that I can serve this city,” 63-year-old Modi said.

- 'Wave of popularity'

Out of a total of 543 seats in the lower house of the Indian parliament, 349 voted in six phases which began on April 7.

The rest of 194 seats will go to the polls in three phases on April 30, May 7 and May 12.

The six-week long national election will come to an end on May 16; the day election results will be declared.

The opposition BJP is trying to wrest control from the federal government, riding on the perceived "wave of popularity" of its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, the controversial politician and three-time chief minister of western state of Gujarat.

The ruling Congress party-led coalition, the United Progressive Alliance - which has governed India since 2004 - has come in for sharp criticism and public scrutiny after a series of corruption scandals, policy paralysis and a slowing economy.

Around 815 million registered voters are expected to cast their ballots, an increase of 100 million compared with the 2009 election.

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