Over 60 million cast vote in penultimate phase
Amid sporadic violence mostly in Andhra Pradesh, over 60 million people on Wednesday voted in 64 constituencies across seven states in a Lok Sabha battle widely tipped to usher in a new government.
Balloting ranged from brisk to very heavy in all places barring Baramulla in the Kashmir Valley where the fear of separatist groups kept most people indoors, Election Commission officials said.
As in the past, West Bengal recorded maximum voting - estimated at 78 per cent - amid allegations by the CPI-M that the ruling Trinamool Congress had indulged in widespread vote rigging.
Wednesday was an important day for Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi who visited Amethi on any polling day for the first time in a decade after BJP’s Smriti Irani and AAP’s Kumar Vishwas mounted a major challenge.
At the end of polling, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Aam Aadmi Party claimed that Gandhi, who won from Amethi both in 2004 and 2009, will certainly lose. The Congress brushed aside the claim.
The Election Commission said long queues of men and women — the young and the old — were seen at almost all constituencies since morning.
Along with the general election, polling was also held on Wednesday for 175 assembly seats in Seemandhra region, which will eventually go over to the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh.
In Baramulla, the fear of separatists and Tuesday’s militant attacks kept most voters away from polling stations. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is trying to snatch the Baramulla seat from the National Conference.
But there was brisk polling in Kashmir’s other constituency Ladakh, a Buddhist dominated region. It is also the country’s largest parliamentary constituency.
A total of 897 candidates fought it out in the 64 seats: Andhra Pradesh (25), Uttar Pradesh (15), Bihar (7), West Bengal (6), Uttarakhand (5), Himachal Pradesh (4) and Jammu and Kashmir (2).
The opposition alleged vote rigging and intimidation by activists of the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal.
The electoral battle was also intense in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh where the BJP and the Congress were the main contenders.
Lok Sabha 2014 has become vocally bitter, with the BJP, determined to unseat the Congress, and others locked in a no-holds-barred campaign.
Even as polling continued in Bihar’s seven seats, BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi told an election rally in Valmikinagar that the Congress was on the run.
Dwelling on an emotive issue, Modi denounced the Congress-led UPA government for not hitting back after Pakistani troops beheaded Indian soldiers along the Jammu and Kashmir border.
The BJP also hit out at the Election Commission after it didn’t give permission for Modi to hold rallies Thursday in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh from where he is fighting his second Lok Sabha seat.
‘It must be for the first time in Indian elections that a candidate is being denied permission to hold a rally in his own constituency,’ Nirmala Sitharaman of the BJP said.
Wednesday was the penultimate round of the 10-leg parliamentary election that began 7 April and will end 12 May. The millions of votes cast across India will be counted 16 May.