The first phase of the Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra saw an estimated 65% voter turnout on Thursday.
Polling was held in 10 Lok Sabha constituencies in the drought and hailstorm-affected Vidarbha region. Voting across Maharashtra's remaining 38 constituencies will be held over the next two phases — on April 17 and 24.
Key contestants in the first phase included former BJP chief Nitin Gadkari, Union minister for heavy industries Praful Patel, state AAP convenor Anjali Damania, actor-turned politician Navneet Kaur Rana and Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr Basbasaheb Amedbkar.
Voting was smooth and peaceful across the region barring stray incidents. Non-functioning EVMs led to minor delays at some places.
The polling in Nagpur Lok Sabha constituency was recorded at around 62% as compared with the 43.60% in 2009. Gadkari is taking on sitting MP Vilas Muttemwar and Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) Anjali Damania from the seat.
In Maoist-hit Gadchiroli Lok Sabha constituency, over 68.33% polling was recorded where voters defied the Maoists' poll boycott call. In 2009, the turnout in Gadchiroli was 65.21%.
A group of armed Maoists reportedly opened fire on a polling party at Jamiagatta in south Gadchiroli when it was returning after conducting the voting. However, no one was injured.
The voter turnout may go up as queues were seen at a few places in the forest district where polling ended at 3pm. There was visible enthusiasm in Maoist-hit region despite the rebels' threat, reports said.
In Amravati, the turnout was around 65%. With voters standing in long queues even after polling hours, the district returning officer said the percentage could go up to 68%. In 2009, 51.85% had cast their votes.
In Chandrapur and Yavatmal, the voting percentages were over 65 and the returning officer of both the constituencies expect a higher percentage as reports were still awaited from some areas. The percentage of voter turnout in 2009 general elections was 54.03% and 54.74%, respectively.
The high turnout in almost all constituencies could be a cause for concern for the ruling Congress-NCP coalition. In the 1995 state elections, the Congress government had to make way for the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance after brisk polling.
In case of voters getting swayed by the projected "Modi wave", the sitting Amravati MP Anandrao Adsul (Shiv Sena) and sitting Akola MP Prataprao Jadhav (Shiv Sena) may retain their seats, while Nagpur MP Vilas Muttemwar (Congress) and Ramtek MP Mukul Wasnik (Congress) may struggle to retain their seats.
"There is a Modi wave in all the constituencies," claimed former RSS spokesman MG Vaidya. But the RSS leader could not cast his vote as his name was missing from the voters' list.
In Bhandara-Gondia, Praful Patel, the Union minister for heavy industries, is banking on a mega power plant and a Bhel unit he brought to the region.
In 2009, the Congress had won four of these 10 seats. While the Shiv Sena (3) and the BJP (2) alliance had won five seats, the Nationalist Congress Party had bagged one.
British High Commissioner meets Gadkari
In a significant development, British High Commissioner Sir James David Bevan flew from Delhi to Nagpur on Thursday and met former BJP chief Nitin Gadkari at his Mahal residence.
"I am here to observe the wonderful experience of the polling in the world's largest democracy and enjoying it," Bevan said and informed that Britain was also keenly following the elections.
To a question that elections are also held in Delhi and why he picked Nagpur, James said he lived in Delhi. It was his privilege to visit other places in the country to keenly watch the process of democracy in India.
Polling in other states:
Bihar | Chandigarh | Chattisgarh | Haryana | Jharkhand | Jammu | Kerala | Madhya Pradesh |Delhi | Odisha | Uttar Pradesh
(With inputs from Pradip Kumar Maitra, Nagpur)