New Delhi: Some 120 million people voted yesterday in 14 states and union territories in a critical third phase of general election to pick 91 of the 543 MPs, including seven from the seat of power in New Delhi whose control is considered vital for any party to rule India.
In what could be called a carnival of democracy, men and women cutting across social and economic strata poured into 140,850 polling centres from the time they opened at 7 in the morning for the 11-hour balloting.
The entire exercise, involving tens of thousands of staff and security personnel, was “overall very peaceful”, Deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi told the media in the evening. The overall voting percentage was almost 63.
In town after town, voter enthusiasm was high in both working and middle class areas. In a few places, brisk polling was reported even in affluent areas — where election enthusiasm used to be tepid — indicating that voting figures may touch a record high.
Officials overseeing the mammoth exercise were kept busy checking identity cards of the voters and inking their fingers.
Although the staggered nine-phase balloting began April 7, the first two rounds involved only 13 constituencies from the country’s northeast where the BJP is not a major player.
Political analyst G V L Narasimha Rao, who is with the BJP, said yesterday’s polling was important because the 91 seats were almost a sixth of the total Lok Sabha seats. This round is also crucial because it includes three states where the BJP failed to win a single seat in 2009: Kerala, Delhi and Haryana.
For the same reason, the Congress, which won 50 more seats in 2009 over the 2004 Lok Sabha battle, has to retain its seat tally if it has to stand up to the aggressive BJP. The balloting is also important for the Aam Aadmi Party, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Shiv Sena, the MNS, the Left and the Janata Dal-United.
The Election Commission said the polling was peaceful everywhere barring Bihar. In Bihar, two Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed when Maoists exploded a concealed land mine in Munger district when they were on their way to neighbouring Jamui where polling was on. Maoists also blasted a school in Bihar’s Lakhisarai district.
A total of 1,414 candidates are in the fray. The balloting covered all 20 seats in Kerala, 10 each in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra and Odisha, nine in Madhya Pradesh, all seven seats in Delhi, six in Bihar, four in Jharkhand and one each in Chhattisgarh, Jammu, Chandigarh, Lakshwadeep and Andaman and Nicobar Island.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal voted in separate polling centres in New Delhi. Former BJP president Nitin Gadkari voted in Nagpur.
A smiling Gandhi flashed her inked finger but did not speak to the media. Congress leader Ajay Maken, who was with her, earlier claimed that voters were sure to give the Congress-led UPA another five-year term.
Kejriwal said he was confident the AAP would win all seven seats in Delhi, where he was chief minister for 49 days until February 14. BJP leader Harsh Vardhan was equally confident that the BJP would crush the Congress thanks to the “Modi wave” — a reference to his party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. “Modi wave is a reality... both rural and urban voters are with us,” a BJP candidate, Meenakshi Lekhi, said.