Rajasthan, UP rack up numbers in biggest polling phase

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Assembly polls: Which party will gain the most from high voter tournout?
Assembly polls: Which party will gain the most from high voter tournout?

Polling began on a brisk note on Thursday morning across 12 states covering 121 constituencies in the fifth phase –the biggest – of the Lok Sabha elections, considered the most crucial for both the ruling Congress and BJP in their race to form the next government at the Centre.

Early trends from the states where polling started at 7 am indicted brisk polling with officials expecting the voting percentage to break previous marks.

In Rajasthan, where elections are being held for 20 Lok Sabha seats, 26% voting was recorded till noon while in 11 constituencies of Uttar Pradesh, the polling percentage till 11 am was pegged at 25%.In Maoist-affected Jharkhand, where polling is being held for six seats, 27% votes have been cast by 11 am despite a boycott call by the CPI-Maoists.

Rebels, however, struck during the polling, exploding an improvised explosive device (IED) in Bermo of Bokaro district which left one CRPF personnel injured.

A gun-battle was also on between security forces and rebels.

In another incident, Maoists blew up railway tracks between Dania and Jogeshwarbihar railway stations in Bokaro district while police recovered a pressure bomb from a school in West Singhbhum district. Voting was put on hold over an hour.

In Bihar, 22.36% votes have been cast in the 7 constituencies by 11 am.

Voter turnout has been 68 per cent on average in the 111 constituencies that have voted so far, versus 60 per cent in the same constituencies and 58 percent nationally in 2009, according to data released by the Election Commission on Wednesday.

More than 195 million voters are eligible to cast their ballot and decide the electoral fortunes of 1,762 candidates are in the fray.

The ruling Congress is forecast to suffer its worst-ever defeat after a decade in power due to public anger over the economic slowdown, high inflation and a string of graft scandals.

The party’s cause has been hampered by two new books, one by former media adviser Sanjaya Baru and another by former coal secretary PC Parakh. Both the books depict Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a well-intentioned but weak figure who answers only to party president Sonia Gandhi.

“It’s only a dynasty, like previously we had kings ruling,” said PV Padmanabhan, a 79-year-old retired electricity board official who has voted in every Indian election, and was lining up to vote in a polling station in Bangalore, capital of Karnataka. Polling is being held in all 28 seats in one go.

Former IT czar Nandan Nilekani is making his electoral debut in Bangalore South as a Congress candidate.

The latest opinion poll predicted the BJP and its allies to win a narrow majority in the 543-member Lok Sabha, compared to previous surveys predicting that they would fall short.

BJP leader and Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, who cast her vote at Jhalawar, exuded confidence of winning all 25 seats.

The most interesting battle in Rajasthan is being fought in Barmer where senior leader Jaswant Singh is contesting as an independent after denied a ticket by the BJP. The party later expelled him.

“We want Modi to win this time. That’s why we are here early in the morning, doing our best for him,” said Preetham Prabhu, a 32-year-old software engineer who was the first to cast his vote in a polling station in Bangalore.

There are others who are apprehensive of the BJP given its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s anti-Muslim image.

“People have forgotten what Modi did to people of this country. I think saving people’s lives is more important than development,” said Shafina Khan, a 21-year-old Muslim teacher in Kamshet, a village surrounded by sugarcane fields in Maharashtra.

Polling is being held in 19 seats across the arid, backward region of Marathwada, the sugar-rich belt in the western part of the state and a part of coastal Konkan.

Top names in the fray are Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde, Ashok Chavan and Gopinath Munde along with second-generation leaders Supriya Sule and Nilesh Narayan Rane.

In Bihar, which sends 40 MPs to the Lok Sabha, former chief minister and RJD chief Laloo Prasad, his wife Rabri Devi and their daughter Misa Bharti, the party’s candidate from Pataliputra were among the early voters.

In Odisha, chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s apparently unshakeable credentials will be tested in polling for 11 seats including capital Bhubaneswar.

In Madhya Pradesh, balloting is taking place for 10 seats including capital Bhopal and Gwalior. The ruling BJP has been on a winning streak in the state polls, but the Congress and its key candidate, Jyotiraditya Scindia, will be hoping to turn the tables.

Polling is off the ground in West Bengal, covering four constituencies including Darjeeling from where football star Bhaichung Bhutia is the Trinamool Congress candidate.

In Maoist-hit Chhattisgarh, three seats are going to polls.

Veteran Congress leader Ajit Jogi is contesting from Mahasamund, while chief minister Raman Singh’s son Abhishek Singh is making his electoral debut in Rajnandgaon.

In Jammu and Kashmir, Udhampur is conducting the election. Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad is contesting from the seat.

In Manipur, voting for the Inner Manipur seat will complete the polling process in the state. Congress holds both seats in the state.

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