High turnout in sixth phase of Lok Sabha elections

Women stand in a queue to cast their votes at a village near Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan on Thursday. (AP) Women stand in a queue to cast their votes at a village near Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan on Thursday. (AP)

High voter enthusiasm on Thursday marked the sixth phase of polling covering 117 constituencies spread across 12 states as the race to the Lok Sabha crossed the half-way mark with stakes high for Congress and BJP.

Barring the killing of a policeman in Assam’s Kokrajhar district in BSF firing to ward off mobs trying to capture a booth and a suspected Maoist attack on a poll team in Jharkhand, the polling on Thursday was peaceful.

The turnout on Thursday in all the 11 states and 1 union territory, including Mumbai, was higher than the previous Lok Sabha elections in 2009, in sync with the trend witnessed in the five earlier phases this time.

While the highest turnout of 83 per cent was recorded in the lone seat of Puducherry followed by West Bengal (82 per cent for six seats) and 73 per cent for all the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu which saw singled-phased polling on Thursday.

Only two states–Rajasthan (59.2 per cent for five seats) and Maharashtra (55.33 per cent for 19 seats)–registered below 60% turnout.

Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag constituency, where PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti in in fray, recorded the lowest turnout of 28 percent on Thursday but it was still higher than the 26.9 per cent recorded five years ago.

About 18 crore voters were eligible in the sixth phase to exercise their franchise to decide the electoral fate of nearly 2100 candidates including political heavyweights like External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid (Congress) who is in fray from Farrukhabad constituency in Uttar Pradesh state, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav contesting from Mainpuri also in UP, leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj (BJP) in Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh, her party colleague Shahnawaz Hussain in Bhagalpur in Bihar and President Pranab Mukherjee’s son Abhijit in Jangipur in West Bengal.

After Thursday’s polling, the voting in 347, or close to two third, of the total of  543 Lok Sabha seats are over with 216 seats left in the remaining three of the total of nine phases of the elections.

Thursday was the second biggest phase of the staggered elections after the fourth phase held on April 17 covered 121 seats.

BJP and Congress are squared off in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh states but the politically most important part of Thursday polling was the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu where BJP and a cluster of smaller regional parties have firmed up a rainbow alliance projected by opinion polls as having a realistic chance of bagging six to seven seats.

In the previous parliamentary poll five years ago, DMK had won 18 seats and AIADMK nine. Some opinion polls have projected Jayalalithaa-led party to secure 24 seats this time and if that comes true, she will be a key factor in forming the next coalition government at the Centre in the event of a fractured electoral mandate.

Finance Minister P Chidambaram’s son Karti, DMK’s A Raja, the prime accused in 2G spectrum case, and senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar are among some of the key candidates in Tamil Nadu this time.

The 19 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra which went to poll on Thursday, including six in Mumbai, are crucial as the state’s ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance is projected to be struggling in the state which has a total of 48 seats.

Mumbaikars shed some of their known polling-day apathy with 53 per cent voter turnout and overall, around 56 per cent of 3.18 crore voters exercised their franchise to decide the fate of 338 candidates including Union Minister Milind Deora, sitting MPs Priya Dutt and Sanjay Nirupam of Congress, social activist Medha Patkar and ministers in Prithviraj Chavan government Chhagan Bhujbal and Sunil Tatkare.

The turnout in Mumbai was a significant improvement over 2009 Lok Sabha elections when only 41.43 per cent electorate exercised their franchise.

Bollywood celebrities, including Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan, and industry captains were among early voters to beat the afternoon heat. After a brisk start in the morning, queues at polling booths dwindled to a trickle in the afternoon as the mercury rose but voting picked up again towards the evening.

Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar cast his vote along with wife Anjali around noon at a polling booth near their residence in suburban Bandra.

Mumbai’s six seats were swept by by Congress in the last elections. The electoral fate of three high-profile Congress candidates were settled today in Mumbai—federal minister of state Milind Deora, Priya Dutt, sister of Bollywood star Sanjay Dutt, and senior party leader Gurudas Kamat. Aam Aadmi Party’s Medha Patkar, a leading environmentalist, and leading banker Meera Sanyal, BJP’s Poonam Mahajan, daughter of slain party leader Pramod Mahajan, are some of the other key candidates in the fray in Mumbai.

Thursday’s polling in UP, which saw high-profile contests involving Mulayam Singh Yadav, his daughter-in-law Dimple, wife of state chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, Salman Khurshid and film actor Hema Malini, saw a turnout of 602. per cent.

In the seven seats decided in Bihar today, the turnout was 60 percent and among key contestants are BJP’s Shahnawaz Hussain in Bhagalpur and union minister Tariq Anwar of NCP.

With Thursday’s polling in Assam’s six seats, Chhattisgarh’s seven and Jharkhand’s four, voting has been completed in the three states. In Assam, an estimated 77.05 per cent of voters on Thursday exercised their franchise to seal the fate of 74 candidates.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who represents Assam in Rajya Sabha since 1991, and his wife Gursharan Kaur cast their vote at Dispur Government Higher Secondary School in Guwahati.

The voting percentage was expected to increase with people still inside polling booths and voting likely to continue till after 9 PM, election office sources said.

Of the six Lok Sabha seats, Dhubri recorded the highest 80.97 per cent of voter turnout followed by Mangaldoi at 80.01 per cent, Kokrajhar at 77.74 per cent, Nowgong at 75.33 per cent, Gauhati at 75 per cent and Barpeta at 74.21 per cent.

In West Bengal, 82 per cent was recorded in six parliamentary constituencies in the state’s second leg of the five-phase elections in West Bengal on Thursday.

“On an average 81.42 per cent of the voters cast their votes till 6:00 pm in the six constituencies of Raiganj, Balurghat, Malda North, Malda South, Jangipur and Murshidabad in north Bengal,” Chief Electoral Officer Sunil Gupta said.

“However, there are long queues in many polling stations and the polling will continue till they are cleared. The final turnout can reach about 84 per cent,” Gupta said.

People boycotted polls in five booths, two in Malda and three in North Dinajpur districts, protesting the absence of development.