9 crore voters exercise their franchise to elect 91 MPs
The world’s largest polling exercise began on Thursday with an estimated 9 crore Indians coming out to vote for electing 91 parliamentarians in the first phase of over-a-month-long Lok Sabha elections for which the Modi government has made nationalism its core pitch against a fragmented Opposition, even as poll-related violence saw at least two deaths.
Complaints poured in about missing voter names and glitches in electronic voting machines in some areas, while Naxal-affected regions of Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh saw IED blasts and clashes with security forces, though officials maintained the polling was largely peaceful with moderate-to-large voter turnout.
West Bengal, where voting took place for two Lok Sabha seats, saw the maximum 81 per cent voting, while state election officers put the voting percentage at 73 per cent in Andhra Pradesh, where violent clashes left at least two persons dead. Some reports put the number of deaths in poll-related clashes at three.
The 91 Lok Sabha constituencies, spread across 18 states and two Union territories, have more than 14 crore voters – about one-sixth of nearly 90 crore total electorate in India. A total of 1,279 candidates are in the fray for these seats.
Votes for all 543 seats would be counted on May 23 after the end of the seven-phase polling on May 19.
An estimated 1.5 crore young voters in the age group of 18-19 years would vote for the first time across the seven phases.
In the first phase, the BJP has sought to defend 32 seats, including those being fought by senior party leader Nitin Gadkari and five other Union ministers, and also expand its tally in states dominated by regional players last time.
The main Opposition party Congress is hoping to defend seven seats it won in 2014, besides eyeing gains in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
Voting also took place in 175 assembly seats in Andhra Pradesh, 32 in Sikkim, 57 in Arunachal Pradesh and 28 seats in Odisha.
The first-phase Lok Sabha constituencies included all 25 seats in Andhra Pradesh, 17 in Telangana, five in Uttarakhand, two in Meghalaya, two in Arunachal Pradesh and lone seats in Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim, Andaman and Nicobar, and Lakshadweep.
Besides, eight seats in Uttar Pradesh, seven in Maharashtra, five in Assam, four each in Bihar and Odisha, two each in Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal and one seat in Chhattisgarh are also part of the first-phase. These states are having multi-phase voting.
The poll panel did not share the overall polling percentage at its briefing, saying the data was still being collated. However, the estimates pegged the total voter turnout in the first phase at around nine crore.
The Election Commission said Bihar saw 50 per cent turnout, the lowest for the first phase. The two seats in J&K – Jammu and Baramulla – recorded 54.49 per cent vote, down from 57.19 per cent in 2014.
The state also saw protests over defective EVMs in some areas and at least one incident of firing.
Seeking another term in power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has focussed his election campaign on national security and flagship schemes of his government.
In Andhra Pradesh, TDP chief N Chandrababu Naidu is seeking to retain power, but is facing a stiff challenge from YSR Congress chief Y S Jaganmohan Reddy.
In Telangana, the ruling TRS is hoping for an encore in Lok Sabha polls after sweeping the December assembly elections, while both Congress and BJP are looking to increase their respective tallies.