Steady voting as Indian elections enter last lap (Afternoon Lead)

May 13th, 2009 - 3:47 pm ICT by IANS  

P. Chidambaram By Minu Jain
New Delhi, May 13 (IANS) Election 2009 entered its final lap Wednesday with the last of India’s 714 million electorate in seven states and two union territories voting in a rapidly changing political scenario that saw the lines between foes and friends getting increasingly blurred.

Most of the 86 constituencies saw steady voting with people coming out in large numbers to choose their Lok Sabha nominees from among the 1,432 candidates.

A total of 108 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise Wednesday. Tens and thousands of police and paramilitary forces have been deployed to guard 121,632 polling stations.

All 39 Lok Sabha seats of Tamil Nadu, all four of Himachal Pradesh and all five of Uttarakhand are seeing polling.

Jammu and Kashmir is voting for two Lok Sabha seats, Punjab for nine, Uttar Pradesh for 14 and West Bengal for 11. There is one seat each in Puducherry and Chandigarh.

Key candidates testing their electoral luck in Wednesday’s 10-hour exercise included Home Minister P. Chidambaram (Sivagana, Tamil Nadu), Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee (South Kolkata), Bharatiya Janata Party’s Varun Gandhi (Pilibhit, Uttar Pradesh), Sajjad Lone (Baramulla, Jammu and Kashmir), Samajwadi Party’s actor-politician Jaya Prada (Rampur, Uttar Pradesh) and cricketer Mohammed Azharuddin of Congress (Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh).

With Wednesday’s election signalling the end of the five-phase exercise that began April 16 and results only three days away, the numbers game to get a majority in the 545-member Lok Sabha hotted up with the two main groupings, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), looking for new allies while losing old ones.

“I’m fully confident that a BJP-led government will be formed at the centre. We will get new partners (after the polls),” said BJP president Rajnath Singh.

AIADMK leader and former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa, who is expected to play a pivotal role in forming a government in New Delhi, admitted she had been getting overtures from various parties but would not take a decision until the results were announced.

“There are feelers from many places. I am not responding to them now. Everything depends on the election results. If the results are as expected then I will go to Delhi,” Jayalalithaa, who heads an alliance with the Left, PMK and MDMK in Tamil Nadu, said in Chennai.

The Left parties also met in New Delhi with Communist Party of India-Marxist’s (CPI-M) Prakash Karat, Communist Party of India’s (CPI) A.B. Bardhan and Forward Bloc’s Debabrata Biswas.

As political parties confabulated, elections proceeded with reports of violence in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

In Tamil Nadu, where 20 percent voter turnout recorded in the first three hours till 11 a.m., one person was killed and 13 seriously injured in fighting between political parties. The ruling DMK and the AIADMK clashed in Dindigul, the DMK and MMK in Chennai and there was violence in Cuddalore too.

In West Bengal 19-20 percent voting was reported in the first three hours amid reports of clashes between the ruling CPI-M and the Trinamool Congress and delayed polling in some areas because of malfunctioning electronic voting machines (EVMs).

On Tuesday night, Khejar Ali, claimed to be a Trinamool Congress activist, was killed in Rajarhat on the outskirts of the capital Kolkata during a violent clash with the ruling rival CPI-M during which bombs were flung, said state Inspector General of Police (law and order) Raj Kanojia.

However, Wednesday was most mostly peaceful except for Jadavpur where the two parties fought following the CPI-M’s allegations that its camp office was damaged by opposition Trinamool Congress supporters, police said.

Polling could not begin in 101 booths in Mathurapur constituency in South 24 Parganas district as the EVM machines, wet due to Tuesday’s rains, did not function.

In Himachal Pradesh, where the highest polling station has been set up at an elevation of over 15,000 feet at Hikkam in Lahaul and Spiti district and where the Kaa polling station in Kinnaur district has only 19 voters, 13 percent of the voters turned out in the first three hours of polling to elect the four MPs from the state.

In the hills of Kashmir, where the Baramulla and Ladakh constituencies were holding elections, voters came out in large numbers. In the first four hours, 15.83 percent of the voters had exercised their franchise in Baramula and 16.82 in Ladakh.

In Punjab and Chandigarh, long queues could be seen outside polling booths. Till 1.30 p.m., 40-45 percent of the electorate had voted.

It was similar in Uttar Pradesh, where the last of 14 Lok Sabha constituencies saw 32.29 percent voting until 1 p.m. The highest voter turnout was in Pilibhit constituency where Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Varun Gandhi is contesting, an official said.

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