Incessant rain and a sudden chill did not deter the voters of this insurgent-ridden state from coming out in large numbers to take part in the crucial second phase of the three-phase assembly election on Wednesday.
Government sources added that there were no reports of violence either. There were, however, reports of arguments from a few polling stations where EVMs developed temporary technical snags. The second phase had 155 candidates fighting for 29 assembly constituencies (ACs) spread over three segments, Imphal East, Imphal West and Bishnupur, together known as the Valley.
By early afternoon, more than 50 per cent votes had been polled in many polling stations. Electoral officers who had their hands full since voting picked up from about 8 am said that they expected the final percentage to touch the 80 per cent mark. In the first phase held on February 8, more than 82 per cent votes were polled.
It began to rain unexpectedly from Tuesday night and political parties feared that it could lead to a reduced turnout of voters. Their fears were washed away in the morning after voters began to gradually gather in front of booths with umbrellas in hands and wearing raincoats, braving the rain and the slush and dirt the roads had been reduced to. By 9 am many polling stations had as many people standing outside as inside.
At the Samurou polling station under the Wangoi constituency, where former CM W Nipamacha Singh is a RJD candidate, at 10-30 am 44 per cent votes had already been polled. "I came out early to ensure that nobody casts a proxy vote in my name," said local resident Shyamkishore, patiently waiting his turn behind a queue of more than 200.
The queue was similarly long at former CM RK Dorendra Singh's (Manipur People's Party) Yaiskul constituency. At two of the polling stations of Brahmapur and MB College in the AC, more than 55 per cent of votes had been polled by 11.50 am.
More than 16 kms away from Imphal City at the Sekmai AC, which is a reserved scheduled caste constituency, a steady flow of voters did not allow the poll officers a minute's rest. By 1.15 pm, 612 out of 1222 voters at one polling station had cast their votes. In fact, at some stations, polling time had to be extended beyond the scheduled stop at 3.30 pm to accommodate serpentine queues.
What was evidently common in all polling stations that HT visited was that women voters outnumbered their male counterparts. Several old women were seen casting their rights with some help from their younger relatives.
At about 11.15 am, reports of a skirmish from the Nambol AC in the Bishnupur district alerted the security apparatus. The dispute, however, was quickly resolved after the snag in the EVM was repaired. Former Union Sports Minister Th Chaoba is a MPP candidate from Nambol.
At most polling stations, the security was tight but relaxed. "The threat perception is less in the Valley compared to the hilly regions that come up for polls on February 23," said a CRPF officer at Thangmeiband, where former CM RB Koijam, an NCP candidate, is fighting.
According to chief electoral officer, RR Rashmi, eight to nine armed personnel were posted at each polling station. At sensitive and hyper-sensitive stations, more forces were put on standby. Out of 827 polling stations, 185 were designated hypersensitive.
In the end, the state administration and paramilitary forces were relieved at the peaceful completion of the second phase, which is being considered the most crucial part of the election. The result of the 29 seats could decide the occupant of the seat of power in the state.