High polling was on Wednesday registered in the penultimate phase of Lok Sabha elections in 64 constituencies in a high-stake battle where the fate of 1,737 candidates including Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, his cousin Varun, Ram Vilas Paswan and Rabri Devi, were decided.
One person was killed when police opened fire outside a polling booth in Bihar’s Sitamarhi district in a bid to prevent its capture.
The highest turnout in the 8th phase was 81.28 per cent in the six seats in West Bengal, which Trinamool Congress is trying to wrest from Left Front, followed by 76 per cent in Seemandhra, where voters chose 25 representatives to Lok Sabha and 175 members of the proposed assembly simultaneously.
Two key battleground states Bihar, where seven constituencies went to poll today, and Uttar Pradesh, where 15 seats were up for grab, recorded impressive voters’ turnout of 58 per cent and 55.52 per cent.
Congress hopes to retain as much ground as possible in today’s phase covering central UP in the face of a strong surge by BJP, playing the caste and religion cards, and a desperate BSP and SP seeking to hold on to their Muslim-OBC-Dalit vote base.
After today’s phase, voting has been completed in 502 of the total of 543 constituencies and the remaining 41 seats will go to polls in the last round on May 12.
The talking point today was Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, where Rahul Gandhi is contesting for the third time in a row, as a 55.2 per cent polling was recorded.
Rahul, who has represented the seat since 2004, for the first time toured polling booths in Amethi on the voting day, apparently in the face of a tough challenge posed by his rivals Smriti Irani of BJP and Kumar Vishwas of Aam Aadmi Party.
Modi had made an aggressive campaign in Amethi, the bastion of Gandhi family for more than three decades, on the last day of electioneering for the 8th phase on April 5.
In neighbouring Sultanpur constituency, where Rahul’s cousin and BJP’s Varun Gandhi is in fray, 57.2 per cent voters cast their votes.
Barring sporadic clashes between workers of YSR Congress Party and TDP and alleged attacks on policemen in Rayalaseema districts, polling has been largely peaceful for the 175 assembly and 25 Lok Sabha constituencies in Seemandhra where Congress is battling hard to repeat its 2009 impressive show apparently as a price for bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.
Prominent among the 118 candidates in Bihar were LJP chief Paswan from Hajipur and former Bihar chief minister and RJD candidate Rabri Devi from Saran where she is pitted against Rajiv Pratap Rudy of BJP.
In West Bengal, polling today in the six seats was crucial for both Left Front which had won them five years ago and Trinamool Congress desperate to wrest them.
Notable among the 72 nominees are nine-time MP CPI(M)’s Basudeb Acharia facing the challenge of actress Moonmoon Sen of Trinamool Congress from Bankura, singer Babul Suprio of BJP from Asansol and another actress of yesteryears Sandhya Roy of Trinamool Congress from Midnapore.
In Bihar, high-profile constituencies Saran and Hajipur, where Paswan is in fray, recorded 56 per cent turnout each, Sheohar registered 55.5 per cent voting, Sitamarhi 54 per cent, Muzaffarpur 61.92 per cent and Maharajganj 53 per cent.
Two seats in Himachal Pradesh, one of them being contested in by Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh, witnessed 65 percent polling closely followed by 62 per cent in the four seats of Uttarakhand.
Two seats in Jammu and Kashmir registered a turnout of close to 50 per cent. Baramulla Lok sabha seat, where several incidents of militant violence have been reported since yesterday and separatists gave a poll boycott call, recorded a turnout of 39.6 per cent.