India defied Red Terror on Thursday and voted in fairly large numbers in the first phase of elections. About 58-62 per cent of the 14.3 crore voters exercised their franchise in 124 constituencies across 17 states even as Naxalites killed 19 people, including 10 security personnel, across Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh. Naxal violence was also reported from Orissa and Maharashtra.
The electorate, thus, sealed the political fates of RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who is contesting against the BJP’s Rajiv Pratap Rudy from Saran in Bihar, BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi, who is fighting don-turned politician Mukhtar Ansari of the BSP in Varanasi, UP, Yashwant Sinha (BJP, Hazaribagh, Jharkhand), Praful Patel (NCP, Gondia-Bhandara, Maharashtra) and S. Jaipal Reddy (Congress, Chevalla, Andhra Pradesh), among others. The results will be announced on May 16.
A total of 71 big and small incidents of Naxalite violence were reported during the day. Apart from these, there were only 15 other instances of poll-related violence. The Election Commission said more voters turned out to vote this time compared to 2004. Comparable figures for 2004 were not available, as delimitation has changed the contours of most constituencies, making precise comparisons impossible.
Lakshwadeep recorded the highest voter turnout, of 86 per cent, while Bihar recorded the lowest turnout, of 46 per cent.
Maharashtra, with 54 per cent, Chhattisgarh (51-54 per cent) and Jharkhand, with 50 per cent, were among the other states that recorded more than 50 per cent voter turnout.
“Considering the complexity and the challenges (involved in holding elections), the Election Commission is totally satisfied with today’s polling,” Deputy Election Commissioner R. Balakrishnan told reporters in Delhi in the evening.
In Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, which are also holding simultaneous elections to 70 and 154 Assembly seats, respectively, the voter turnout was about 52 per cent and 65 per cent.
Kandhamal, which has been in the news recently because of persecution of Christians, saw 65 per cent polling. Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, who is seeking re-election from the state’s Hinjili Assembly seat, also had his fate “sealed” on Thursday.
The Naxalite attacks, which seem to be part of a coordinated plan to disrupt the electoral process, began at 7.30 am in Jharkhand, when a bus, carrying Border Security Force personnel in Jharkhand’s Latehar district, 120 km from state capital Ranchi, hit a landmine. Five BSF men and two civilians, the driver and his helper, died in the explosion.
In Chhattisgarh’s Rajnandgaon district, Naxalite extremists blew up a vehicle carrying poll officials, killing five of them and then traded gunfire with security forces, killing two CRPF jawans.
Polling booths were set on fire and there was exchange of fire between Naxals and security forces in the Dantewada and Narainpur areas of the state, 350 km and 250 km, respectively, from state capital Raipur, that left two CRPF jawan dead and five others injured.
In Bihar’s Gaya district, the Maoists shot dead two security personnel.
Repolls will be ordered in some pockets of the five violence-hit states as Naxals robbed or destroyed electronic voting machines.
The Election Commission will decide on this after receiving final reports from its officials late on Thursday night or on Friday.
With inputs from HT bureaus in Nagpur, Patna, Ranchi, Bhubaneswar and Hyderabad