NEW DELHI (TIP): Nearly 66% of the electorate exercised its franchise on Wednesday in the seventh phase of the 16th general election, in line with the heavy turnout that marked the earlier rounds of voting. More than 139 million people were eligible to cast their votes in the phase that decided the electoral fortunes of political heavyweights including the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and his senior colleagues Rajnath Singh, L.K. Advani, M.M. Joshi and Arun Jaitley, besides Congress party president Sonia Gandhi.
The day also marked what Modi claimed was the first police complaint registered against him in his life. The first-information report (FIR) was registered against him at the behest of the Election Commission. The BJP is eyeing at least 62 of the seats up for grabs in Wednesday’s voting, by the end of which elections were completed in 438 of the 543 Lok Sabha constituencies. Elections to the remaining 105 constituencies will he held on 7 May (64 seats) and 12 May (41). The results will be declared on 16 May.
The 438 Lok Sabha constituencies where voting has taken place so far have witnessed a 66.2% voter turnout, compared with 57.6% in 2009. Some 62.4% polling was recorded in Gujarat, where all 26 Lok Sabha constituencies in the state went to the polls on Wednesday. Vadodara, where Modi is in the electoral fray, had witnessed a high turnout of 70% well before polling ended. “There is a phenomenal increase in the voter turnout in Gujarat…,” said Akshay Rout, director general of the Election Commission. “The voter turnout for the state in the 2009 general election was 47.8%.” In the last five Lok Sabha elections, the average voter turnout in Gujarat was less than 50%.
The turnout is expected to be higher this time around following a voter awareness drive carried out by the Election Commission and with Modi being selected the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, political experts said. After casting his vote in Gandhinagar constituency, Modi told reporters that this was the end of India’s “mother-son government”—a reference to Sonia Gandhi and her son, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi. Modi said the Congress appeared to have accepted defeat after signalling it may support a Third Front (non-Congress, non- BJP) government at the Centre to keep Modi out.
“The Congress has accepted defeat as it is now saying that it will support the Third Front to keep me out of the race. The Prime Minister, the finance minister and other senior ministers are not in the contest. Tall leaders of the Congress are running away from the elections,” Modi said. “Now, some are trying to save their chairs, some are trying to save themselves and some are trying to save prestige of the Congress party,” he added. Modi suffered a setback, with the Election Commission asking the Gujarat state authorities to register two first FIRs against him for holding a media briefing outside a polling station in Gandhinagar and also holding the BJP’s symbol, the lotus, while talking to reporters.
“Tone and tenor of the address made by Narendra Modi and the statements made by him, the manner in which the symbol lotus of the BJP was being displayed by him, it is evident that the address was in the nature of political speech intended and calculated to influence and affect the result of elections in the constituencies going to polls today, not only in Ahmedabad but also in all other constituencies in Gujarat and elsewhere in the country,” the poll watchdog said in a statement. Addressing a rally in Tirupati, Modi referred to the FIR. “I will never forget 30 April. Today was the first time an FIR was registered against me,” he said.
Modi claimed he had never violated the law hadn’t even got a parking ticket in his life. Gujarat is considered to be a bastion for the BJP and the party is looking to make a clean sweep in the state this time around. Modi is also contesting from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the BJP won 15 seats and the Congress 11. The BJP increased its tally in by-elections—in the outgoing Lok Sabha, the BJP has 17 seats while the Congress has nine. On Wednesday, Punjab also recorded its highest-ever turnout at 73%. The voter turnout was 76% in Daman and Diu, 81.35% in West Bengal, 73% in Punjab, 59% in Uttar Pradesh, 70% in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, 60% in Bihar, 85% in Dadar and Nagar Haveli, and 25% in Jammu and Kashmir.
Andhra Pradesh’s Telangana region, which will become India’s 29th and newest state on 2 June, also went to the polls on Wednesday. The region recorded a turnout of 59.3% as of 3pm. Medak (65%) had recorded the highest polling while Hyderabad district (51%) recorded the lowest, a bulletin by the state election commission showed. About 28.1 million voters in Telangana were registered to elect candidates to 17 Lok Sabha and 119 state assembly seats at 30,000 polling stations.While 265 candidates were in the fray for parliamentary constituencies, 1,669 candidates were in the race for the state assembly.
Voters in Telangana are simultaneously electing representatives to the Lok Sabha and to what will become the Telangana state assembly. The other part of Andhra Pradesh will exercise its mandate a week later on 7 May. The 294-member Andhra Pradesh state assembly will be divided according to constituencies once Telangana becomes a state. The main parties and groupings in the race to form the first government of Telangana are the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS), and two alliances—one between the Congress and the Communist Party of India and the other between the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the BJP. The winner in the 119-member Telangana assembly has to get a simple majority of at least 60 seats to form the new government in the would-be state.
Polling was not devoid of incidents. Actorpolitician K. Chiranjeevi landed himself in an embarrassing position when a youngster objected to him skipping the queue at a polling booth. Chiranjeevi, who is chairman of the Andhra Pradesh Congress Committee, then beat a hasty retreat and stood at the end of the queue. TDP chief N. Chandrababu Naidu, too, landed himself in an embarrassing position when he revealed who he cast his ballot for. “Due to our pre-poll arrangement, I cast both my votes for lotus symbol (of the BJP),” Naidu told waiting media.
The state election commission did not take kindly to this. “Secrecy of vote has to be maintained by every voter,” Andhra Pradesh chief electoral officer Bhanwar Lal said. As a result, the returning officer of the polling booth will declare Naidu’s vote ineligible. “He should act responsibly,” Lal said. “If we don’t delete that (ballot), action will be taken against us.”