Stakes high as crucial phase 7 of LS polls underway
About 45 per cent of the voters on Wednesday exercised their franchise in the first six hours of polling in seven states and two union territories during the seventh phase of Lok Sabha elections that will decide the fate of political heavyweights like Narendra Modi, Sonia Gandhi, L K Advani, Rajnath Singh and Murli Manohar Joshi.
Barring skirmishes in Punjab that left 10 persons injured, voting was by and large peaceful.
Yet again, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party have big stakes in Wednesday’s elections with 35 and 23 seats in their bag respectively, which were won in the last elections.
Telangana, the new state-to-be, is also electing its first assembly along with representatives to Parliament as polls are being held in 119 assembly constituencies and 17 Lok Sabha seats in that part of Andhra Pradesh.
The Telangana Rashtra Samithi, which spearheaded the campaign for Telangana state, and the Congress, whose government at the Centre cleared the new state proposal, are said to be involved in a hard-fought contest over credit for the new state. The TRS has two Lok Sabha seats while the Telugu Desam Party has two from the region.
The Janata Dal-United and the Trinamool Congress have five seats each in the constituencies going to polls on Wednesday, while Communist Party of India-Marxist has four.
Stakes are also high for the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab which has four seats and is locked in a bitter contest with the Congress.
BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on Wednesday said Congress has already accepted defeat as the party plans to support a Third Front government at the Centre to keep him out of the race.
The 63-year-old Gujarat chief minister was speaking to reporters after casting his vote in Gandhinagar constituency of party veteran L K Advani.
One of the early voters, Modi cast his ballot at Nishan School polling booth in Ghatlodia area of the city. Ghatlodia assembly seat, which is part of Ahmedabad city, falls in the Gandhinagar assembly constituency from where Advani is contesting.
Modi is seeking to make his debut in the Lok Sabha by contesting from Vadodara, which is among the 26 seats in Gujarat going to polls in a single phase on Wednesday. He is pitted against Madhusudan Mistry of the Congress. He is also contesting from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh will goes to polls on May 12.
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Image: Monks of Swaminarayan temple queue up to cast their votes at a polling booth in Ahmedabad on Wednesday
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters
Nearly 37 per cent polling recorded in UP till 1 pm
Nearly 37 per cent voters exercised their franchise till 1 pm in Uttar Pradesh, where polling is underway in 14 seats to decide the fate of 233 candidates.
UP Governor B L Joshi, BSP supremo Mayawati, Congress candidate from Lucknow Rita Bahuguna Joshi, BJP National President Rajnath Singh and party leader Kalraj Mishra were among those who exercised their franchise.
Dhaurahra witnessed 44.2 per cent polling in the first four hours while Sitapur and Mishrikh recorded 39.8 and 34.4 per cent polling respectively.
Unnao recorded 32.71 per cent polling, Mohanlalganj 36 per cent, Lucknow 34.1 per cent, Rae Bareli 30.4 per cent, Kanpur 35.68 per cent, Jalaun 34.6 per cent, Jhansi 44.2 per cent, Hamirpur 36.71 per cent, Banda 33.14 per cent, Fatehpur and Barabanki had 40.1 and 39.15 per cent respectively.
In Sitapur an FIR has been lodged against SP MLA Rampal Yadav after he entered into an altercation with CRPF jawan Dharampal Singh at Nauabehad polling booth in Biswan area.
The fate of 233 candidates will be decided by 2.46 crore voters that include 1.34 crore men and 1.12 crore women.
A total of 25,485 polling centres have been set up in which 3554 have been identified as critical. The focus would be on Rae Bareli and Lucknow seats from where Congress president Sonia Gandhi and BJP President Rajnath Singh are in the fray.
Gandhi, who is contesting from her traditional Rae Bareli, has no major contestant against her with SP deciding not to field its candidate against her.
The prestigious Lucknow seat, which is in the limelight with the entry of the BJP's national president, is set to witness a tricky contest.
Rajnath, who is facing a four-cornered fight, has two tasks at hand -- first to maintain legacy of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and second to ensure a victory margin matching with his political stature.
Meanwhile, to see the polling exercise British High Commissioner James David Bevan today reached Lucknow and visited a number of polling centres.
According to official sources he also visited the election commission office and met Governor Joshi, Rajnath, Mayawati and Rita Joshi.
He is also scheduled to visit Rae Bareli parliamentary constituency of Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
District Magistrate Rae Bareli Aditi Singh had informed that Bevan would visit polling booth at Dayanand PG College in Bachrawan town to see the polling process for the Lok Sabha elections.
After this he would visit polling centre at Kendriya Vidyalaya at Gora Bazar in Rae Bareli city, she said.
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Image: An elderly woman arrives at a polling booth in Lucknow on Wednesday
Photographs: PTI Photo
Nearly 68 per cent poll recorded till 2 pm in Bengal
Nearly 68 per cent votes were cast till 2 pm in West Bengal, where polling is underway in nine parliamentary constituencies in the third phase to decide the fate of 87 candidates.
"On an average 67.34 per cent of the total 1,39,43,063 voters have cast their votes in the first seven hours of polling in the nine constituencies of Howrah, Uluberia, Serampore, Hooghly, Arambagh, Burdwan(East), Burdwan-Durgapur, Bolpur and Birbhum," state Assistant CEO Amitjyoti Bhattacharya said in Kolkata.
A presiding officer was today removed from a polling station under Arambagh Parliamentary constituency on charges of biased behaviour. He was immediately replaced so as to keep the election process unaffected, Bhattacharya said.
Barring replacement of some EVMs during mock polling and thereafter due to malfunctioning in a number of booths, voting is peaceful except for some stray incidents, state CEO Sunil Gupta said.
"We have not yet received report of any major incident regarding disruption of law and order or complaint of booth jamming or violation of the model code of conduct," he said.
Arrangements have been made for webcasting and live monitoring of sensitive areas where tight security has been provided by central forces.
The number of security personnel deployed for the polls this time is more than double of that of the 2011 assembly election in the state, the CEO said.
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Image: A woman quenches her thirst at a polling station in Howrah district, West Bengal on Wednesday
Photographs: PTI Photo
55 per cent turnout in Punjab till 2 pm
A turnout of 55 per cent was registered till 2 pm today in parts of Punjab, where 253 contestants are in fray for 13 Lok Sabha seats.
Out of a total 1.95 crore electorate, 55 per cent voters had exercised their franchise till 2 pm and the polling has been peaceful so far, an election office spokesman said.
However, minor skirmishes between Akali Dal and Congress workers were reported from Moga, Khadoor Sahib and Amritsar.
At least ten persons were injured in a clash between Akali and Congress workers at Sangatpura village in Moga, officials said, adding, that police intervened and peace was restored in the area.
Union Minister of State Preneet Kaur cast her vote in Patiala, while her husband and Congress candidate from Amritsar Capt Amarinder Singh preferred to stay back at the constituency from where he is in fray against BJP's Arun Jaitley.
Singh is a registered voter in Patiala from where he is a MLA.
Soaring temperatures in Punjab have not deterred the electors from reaching the polling booths to exercise their franchise as serpentine ques were seen at several places.
The polling will end at 6 pm.
BJP MLA Navjot Kaur, wife of cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, a three-time MP from Amritsar, cast her vote in the holy city. On Sidhu's absence from exercising his franchise, she said, "He is very busy today otherwise he does not miss exercising his franchise." BJP had replaced Sidhu by leader of Opposition Arun Jaitley from Amritsar. In the run up to the Lok Sabha polls, Sidhu did not even once visit Amritsar to canvass for Jaitley.
Jaitley, who did not have vote in Punjab paid obeisance at Golden temple, and urged people to come out in larger numbers to vote.
SAD's Sangrur candidate Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) candidate from Patiala Dr Dharamvir Gandhi were among those who cast their vote in the initial hours of polling. "There is an AAP wave in Punjab and we will surprise all by winning maximum seats," Dharamvir said.
Congress candidate Manpreet Singh Badal, estranged nephew of Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, after casting his vote alleged there is "misgovernance" in Punjab with mafias controlling all businesses.
"The polls are about pride of Punjab...we (Congress) will bring rule of law in the state," he said. Manpreet's rival and SAD candidate Harsimrat Kaur Badal also cast her vote in Bathinda.
Harsimrat, who is wife of Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, claimed there is anti-incumbency wave against the central government and NDA will come to power at the Centre.
She refuted corruption charges against the Badal regime and claimed that drug menace prevailed due to inflow of contraband from across the border and it is the role of the central government to stop it by enhancing vigil at borders.
"Congress is deaf and dumb to problems of Punjab," she said.
Punjab Congress Chief Partap Singh Bajwa and his MLA wife Charanjeet Kaur exercised their franchise in Qadian in Gurdaspur. Bajwa claimed that SAD-BJP will be wiped out of Punjab as Congress is set to win all 13 seats.
Among other key contestants are actor-turned-politician Vinod Khanna (BJP) and his rival Punjab Congress Chief Partap Singh Bajwa from Gurdaspur, Leader of Opposition in Punjab assembly Sunil Kumar Jakhar (Congress) against SAD's sitting
MP Sher Singh Ghubaya from Ferozepur, Congress veteran Ambika Soni against Akali stalwart Prem Singh Chandumajra from Anandpur Sahib constituency.
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Image: Voters line up to cast their votes outside a polling station at Rasan Hedi village in Punjab
Photographs: Ajay Verma/Reuters
48 per cent polling for seven seats in Bihar till 3 pm
Braving the scorching sun, Bihar registered a voter turnout of about 48 per cent till 3 pm for seven Lok Sabha seats in the fourth phase of elections in the state.
Madhepura from where JD(U) President Sharad Yadav is contesting registered 48 per cent polling, Madhubani recorded 45 per cent, Jhanjharpur 45.5 per cent, Darbhanga 44 per cent, Samastipur 47 per cent, Begusarai 51 per cent and Khagaria 51.45 per cent till 3 pm, an Election Commission statement said in Patna.
Sharad Yadav cast his vote at the Adarsh Madhya Vidyalaya.
With the temperature crossing 42 degree Celsius, people, elderly persons and women, waited in queue before booths.
In Madhubani and Begusarai, a large number of burqa-clad women voters were seen outside booths.
In Darbhanga, a car in BJP candidate Kirti Azad's convoy was seized by the district administration in Benipur for not having requisite permission, police said.
A 104-year-old man was assisted by his family to a booth in Madhubani for casting his vote.
There were some reports of minor friction between electors and officials over missing names in voters lists.
A bypoll is also being held in Sahebpur Kamal assembly seat following the resignation of former minister Parveen Amanullah's from the Nitish Kumar Cabinet.
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Image: Voters line up to cast their ballot at a polling booth in Bihar's Samastipr district
Photographs: PTI Photo
50 pc polling in Telangana by 1 pm
Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh where polling is being held simultaneously for 119 assembly and 17 Lok Sabha seats witnessed an impressive turnout of about 50 per cent till 1 pm.
State Chief Electoral Officer Bhanwarlal told reporters that Nizamabad recorded the highest percentage of 57 while Hyderabad recorded lowest turnout of 32.5 per cent, out of the 10 districts where polling is on.
A total of 1,669 candidates are in the fray for 119 assembly seats while 265 are contesting for the 17 parliamentary seats across Telangana.
Meanwhile, police found burnt currency notes in a vehicle on the outskirts of Suryapet town in Nalgonda district.
The multi-purpose vehicle, on its way to Kodad in the district from here, was pasted with sticker of Telangana Pradesh Congress Committee (TPCC) working president and former minister N Uttam Kumar Reddy, police said.
"We don't know whether the vehicle belonged to him or his followers or somebody else. Probe is on," a police official said.
"The vehicle was found abandoned. Our police team found burnt currency notes of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 denomination. The exact amount which was being carried in the vehicle is still not known. The driver is absconding," Nalgonda Superintendent of Police T Prabhakar Rao told PTI over phone.
The bag containing the cash was kept on the vehicle's engine and due to heat, it caught fire resulting in the burning of the notes, the SP said, adding they had registered a case in this regard and further investigations were on.
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Image: Voters line up to cast their votes outside a polling station in Rangareddy district in soon-to-be Telangana.
Photographs: Danish Ismail/Reuters
Over 20 per cent polling till 3 pm in Srinagar
Over 20 per cent of the 12 lakh electorate exercised their franchise in the Srinagar parliamentary constituency till 3 pm on Wednesday as voting remained sluggish in Srinagar in the wake of the separatists' call for boycott of the elections.
The constituency spread over three districts of Budgam, Srinagar and Ganderbal comprises 15 assembly constituencies.
Srinagar recorded 8.58 per cent of polling till 3 pm, an official spokesman said,
He said Ganderbal recorded 38.77 per cent, while 32.29 per cent of polling was recorded in Budgam district.
The Srinagar Lok Sabha seat has 12.31 lakh voters, including 5.72 lakh women, who are eligible to cast their votes at 1,546 polling stations.
Of the 1,546 polling stations, only 3.5 per cent have been declared as normal.
According to security agencies, 1,021 polling stations have been declared as hypersensitive and 470 as sensitive.
Srinagar city has traditionally recorded low percentage of polling. In 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the turnout in the constituency was only 25.55 per cent.
Union Minister and National Conference president Farooq Abdullah is seeking re-election from the seat. He is up against several other candidates, including PDP's Tariq Hamid Karra.
NC has won the seat every time barring 1971 and 1996 when the party did not contest the polls.
Image: People wait to cast their vote for Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency at a polling station in Ganderbal district on Wednesday.
Photographs: S Irfan/PTI photo