Congress, BJP claim victory as India enters penultimate voting round (Afternoon Lead)

May 7th, 2009 - 4:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Bharatiya Janata Party New Delhi, May 7 (IANS) The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) both said they would win the Lok Sabha election that Thursday entered its fourth and penultimate round with millions voting across eight states.
More than a quarter of the eligible 94.6 million voters had exercised their franchise by 3 p.m. amid clear indications that the national battle was to occupy the number one slot in a splintered 545-member Lok Sabha.

“This election will be a close fight between the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) and the UPA (United Progressive Alliance),” Congress leader Satyavrat Chaturvedi admitted candidly, referring to the Congress-led UPA and the NDA led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

He said the Congress tally after the five-phase balloting ending May 13 would be over 170 seats — about 100 short of the majority needed to form a government — and it hoped to earn support from smaller parties to take power.

“No single party will be in a position to form a government on its own. It will be a coalition government,” Chaturvedi said.

BJP president Rajnath Singh was more assertive in his claim, saying the NDA was poised to get a majority. But he did not assert that the BJP would earn the mandate on its own.

Two people were killed in West Bengal and stray incidents of violence were also reported from Rajasthan as well as Jammu and Kashmir, but the exercise involving 1,315 candidates and 85 constituencies was otherwise largely peaceful.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam were among the millions who voted. Gandhi voted in the New Delhi Lok Sabha constituency along with Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and promptly flashed her inked index finger. But she did not speak to journalists.

Among the heavyweights in the running Thursday were External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and former chief ministers Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party), Lalu Prasad (Rashtriya Janata Dal) and Rajnath Singh (BJP).

Only Rajasthan (25 seats), Delhi (seven) and Haryana (10) saw polling in entire states. In Bihar, the last three of its 40 parliamentary constituencies saw voting along with four in Punjab, 18 in Uttar Pradesh and 17 seats in West Bengal.

Only Srinagar went to the polls in Jammu and Kashmir amid a boycott call given by the two wings of the separatist Hurriyat Conference and guerrilla groups, including those based in Pakistan.

With indications that the Congress and the BJP would have to rely on regional chieftains to claim power, Mulayam Singh said the Samajwadi Party would offer its support to any party in New Delhi that sacked the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government of Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh — his political turf. Both the Congress and BJP immediately turned down the demand.

To add to the confusion, Sheila Dikshit reiterated that her party would like to do business with Bihar’s ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U), a crucial BJP ally, after the elections. But JD-U chief and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said there was no question of throwing his lot with the Congress.

Congress general secretary M. Veerappa Moily summed up the mood of the leading parties when he said a coalition government was “not a matter of choice but compulsion”.

Brisk polling was reported from Bihar, Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Delhi. But balloting was slow in Srinagar, the urban hub of the separatist campaign in Kashmir where the key candidate is former chief minister and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah. His main opponent is Molvi Ifftekhar Hussain Ansari of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

In Srinagar, a petrol bomb was hurled at a polling station but not much damage was caused. Groups of anti-election protesters stoned a few polling stations in the Old City areas but were chased away by security men.

Stray incidents of stone throwing and capturing of polling booths were reported in Dausa and Alwar constituencies in Rajasthan. Two people were killed in two separate incidents in West Bengal, where the Communists are facing a formidable challenge from the Congress and Trinamool Congress.

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