Voter turnouts higher than the 2009 poll figures marked the fifth and biggest round of Lok Sabha elections covering 121 seats across 12 states amidst largely peaceful balloting on Thursday. A good turnout is considered a strong sign of anti-incumbency, a cause of worry for the Congress.
Women wait in a queue to cast their votes at a polling station in Ajmer district, Rajasthan. (Reuters Photo)
While the Election Commission was yet to announce the final voting figures late on Thursday, nearly 65% of the eligible electors cast their ballot across the 12 states.
The highest turnout of 81.57% was recorded in four constituencies in West Bengal, which has a total of 39 seats, while the lowest was recorded in Madhya Pradesh at 54%. While 80.6% had voted in the four seats in West Bengal in the 2009 general elections, the Madhya Pradesh figure stood at 46%.
"After today's phase, a large section of India has already voted," said BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi. "People have voted in the heat and have voted for a strong government." He added that the long queues of first-time and women voters "are positive steps".
In the key battleground state of Karnataka, where polling was held in the all the 28 seats, the voting percentage was 66% and in the 11 seats of Uttar Pradesh, electorally the most important state with 80 seats in the Lower House, the turnout was 62.52%, up from 2009’s 54.2%.
A good show for Congress in Karnataka could help it check the BJP's perceived surge nationally. In the previous Lok Sabha poll in the state, the BJP had won 18 seats in the state but is struggling this time.
Maoists struck in Jharkhand, exploding a land mine at Bokaro in Giridih constituency and injuring four paramilitary troopers. They also blew up a school building and a rail track.
Allegations of voter intimidation came from parts of Bihar and West Bengal. The Election Commission ordered repolling in nine polling stations in Bihar.
Read: Lok Sabha polls phase 5: Key figures and facts
In pictures: Fifth phase Lok Sabha voting across India
Thursday's election covered a vast part of the Indian landscape — from Jammu and Kashmir in the north to Karnataka in the south, from Maharashtra along the west coast to West Bengal in the east.
Polling took place in all 28 Lok Sabha seats in Karnataka, 20 of the 25 in Rajasthan, 19 of the 48 in Maharashtra, 11 seats each in Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, 10 in Madhya Pradesh, seven in Bihar, six in Jharkhand, four in West Bengal, three in Chhattisgarh and one seat each in Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir. Simultaneous balloting was held for 77 of the 147 assembly seats in Odisha and two assembly bypolls in West Bengal.
The BJP claimed it was confident of winning most seats contested on Thursday.
"We are sure of winning all 25 seats (in Rajasthan)," chief minister Vasundhara Raje said in Jaipur.
Former central minister Ananth Kumar voiced confidence about the BJP's ability to do well in Karnataka, where it is the main opposition party to the ruling Congress.
Central ministers Sushilkumar Shinde and Jyotiraditya Scindia brushed aside the BJP's claims.
"There is no Modi wave," Scindia said after voting in Guna in Madhya Pradesh. Shinde said in Sholapur: "There is no Modi wave here, only Shinde wave."
With Thursday's round, polling has been completed in 232 of the 543 seats in the Lok Sabha.
Thursday was important both for the BJP and the Congress, which held 40 and 36 of the Lok Sabha seats that went to the polls, as well as the Janata Dal-United, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Janata Dal-Secular, Shiv Sena, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, Aam Aadmi Party, Biju Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party and Trinamool Congress.
Around 70% votes -- up from the 2009 figure of 44.9% -- were polled in Jammu and Kashmir's Udhampur seat where elections passed off peacefully.
In Bihar, where polls were held in seven Lok Sabha constituencies, 56% voting was recorded as compared to 39.3% during 2009 Lok Sabha elections.
Polling in Odisha saw 70% people vote as compared to 66.28% in 2009. In Chhattisgarh, 63.44% polling was reported. Polling in another important state, Maharashtra, which has a total of 48 seats, 19 constituencies which went to poll on Thursday saw a turnout of 61.7%.
Prominent candidates in the fray included Ananth Kumar and Nandan Nilekani (Bangalore South), Jaswant Singh (Barmer), Sachin Pilot (Ajmer), Ashok Chavan (Nanded), Misha Bharti (Pataliputra), Supriya Sule (Baramati), BS Yeddyurappa (Shimoga), Ghulam Nabi Azad (Udhampur), Maneka Gandhi (Pilibhit), Shatrughan Sinha (Patna Sahib), M Veerappa Moily (Chikkaballapur), Sushilkumar Shinde (Solapur), V Balakrishnan (Banglaore Central), and SS Ahluwalia and Bhaichung Bhutia (Darjeeling).
About 1.37 million staff oversaw the polling, watched over by hundreds of thousands of police and paramilitary personnel.
Thursday saw the largest number of Lok Sabha seats in contention on any one day since the staggered balloting started April 7. Four more rounds of voting are due until May 12. The result will be declared May 16.
Here's a map for the constituencies going to polls on Thursday. On searching, you will get details of all parties fighting from a constituency and key candiates there:
LIVE: Rajasthan | Karnataka | Bihar | Uttar Pradesh | Maharashtra | Madhya Pradesh | West Bengal | Manipur | Odisha | Chhattisgarh | Jammu and Kashmir
Full coverage: My India my vote
(With inputs from agencies)