Millions vote in three states, spotlight on Varanasi
Braving a scorching sun at places, millions of men and women voted Monday in the last lot of 41 Lok Sabha constituencies including Varanasi where BJP's prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi faces a stiff challenge from the AAP and the Congress.
Long queues were seen at most of the 71,254 polling stations in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, with some people in Varanasi -- which saw heavy balloting -- complaining that they had been waiting for four hours to vote.
Election Commission officials said that more than 50 percent of the 66 million electorate had voted in the first six hours after polling began at 7 a.m., the maximum in West Bengal.
Although the contest is intense in each of the 41 constituencies voting Monday, most attention across the country was on Varanasi where AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal claimed he was sure to defeat Modi.
"The situation has changed in the last three days, and now everyone is saying Modi is losing," Kejriwal told journalists.
Kejriwal insisted that the Varanasi battle was no more a triangular contest. "(Congress candidate) Ajai Rai does not feature anywhere. I feel it is a direct fight with Modi."
The BJP is equally confident of ensuring Modi's win by a huge margin in Varanasi, the second Lok Sabha seat from where the Gujarat chief minister is contesting besides Vadodara in his home state.
Modi, who will be India's next prime minister if he leads his BJP-led coalition to victory, Monday urged the electorate to vote in large numbers and contribute towards changing the country's future.
"In this last phase also, I request the voters to come out and vote in large numbers, with the same amount of zeal and enthusiasm," he said in a six-minute video message.
Kejriwal's AAP immediately accused the television channels of violating the model code of conduct by broadcasting Modi's message on a day his own constituency is voting and asked the poll panel to take action.
A controversy erupted when Ajay Rai walked into a polling station with the party symbol tucked on his kurta.
Election law bans the use of any party symbol within 100 metres of the polling station. The poll panel asked the Varanasi authorities to file a case against him.
Officials reported brisk polling in the other 17 constituencies of Uttar Pradesh too, including Azamgarh where Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is considered the front-runner.
In Bihar, nearly 35 percent of the electorate had voted in the first six hours.
Additional Chief Electoral Officer R. Lakshmanan said voting was peaceful despite apprehensions of violence.
He said voters gathered at polling booths even before they opened.
The six constituencies where voting took place include Valmiki Nagar, West Champaran, East Champaran, Vaishali, Gopalganj and Siwan.
Key candidates include former union ministers Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Raghunath Jha, filmmaker Prakash Jha and Hena Sahab, wife of jailed former MP Mohammad Shahabuddin.
The highest polling was reported from West Bengal, where the ruling Trinamool Congress is battling the Congress, the Left and a resurgent BJP in 17 Lok Sabha seats.
The opposition accused the Trinamool of unleashing violence to intimidate voters. They claimed that a number of their polling agents were driven out of booths. The Trinamool denied the allegations.
By 1 p.m., over 56 percent of the 25 million electorate had voted in the state.
Some 20 people were injured in clashes between CPI-M and Trinamool activists in Haroa, about 40 km from Kolkata. A total of 188 candidates are in the fray.
Uttar Pradesh accounted for most candidates in the final round (328) followed by West Bengal (188) and Bihar (90). Uttar Pradesh has 31 million voters, West Bengal 25 million and Bihar about 9 million.
The drawn out Lok Sabha contest that began April 7 was one of the most bitterly fought in India, with political discourse repeatedly degenerating into vicious personal attacks.
(Posted on 12-05-2014)