16 Apr :An estimated 60 pc of the 14.30 crore voters exercised their franchise in the first phase of Lok Sabha poll in 124 constituencies on Thursday, even as largescale violence by Naxals in four states killed 18 people, including five poll officials and 10 security personnel.
Simultaneous elections to assemblies in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa also drew about 60 percent voters’ response with the polling today covering more than half of the constituencies in the two states.
Heavily-armed Naxals went into action shortly after voting began on Thursday morning, blasting landmine targeting a bus ferrying Border Security Force personnel in Jharkhand’s Latehar district in Jharkhand leaving seven personnel and two civilians dead.
Maoists blew up a vehicle carrying poll officials in Chhattisgarh’s Rajnandgaon district, killing five of them and traded gunfire with security forces killing two CRPF jawans.
Polling booths were set on fire and there was exchange of fire between naxals and security forces in Dantewada and Narainpur areas of the state that left two CRPF jawan dead and five others injured.
In Bihar’s Gaya district, the Maoists shot dead two security personnel.“Considering the complexity and the challenges, the Election Commission is totally satisfied with today’s polling”, Deputy Election Commissioner R Balakrishnan told reporters at New Delhi on Thursday while briefing mediapersons about the voter turnout.
Thursday’s election will decide the fate of 1,715 candidates including RJD chief Lalu Prasad, BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha, TRS president K Chandrasekar Rao and union ministers Praful Patel, Renuka Chowdhury, Meira Kumar and S Jaipal Reddy.
Low turnout of voters was reported from Uttar Pradesh (48 to 50 percent) and Bihar (46 percent) in the first phase with the two key states accounting for 120 Lok Sabha seats.
Orissa recorded a voter turnout of 53 percent and Kandhamal, the ground zero of anti-Christian violence, saw 65 percent polling.
The highest polling of 86 percent was reported from Lakshwadweep and over 60 percent cast their votes in Left Front-ruled Kerala where 20 seats are up for grab.
Voting began on a sedate note in the 124 constituencies spread across 17 states and union territories and picked up during the day.
Maoists also set afire at least three polling booths, electronic voting machines and other materials in Orissa’s Malkangiri district on Thursday disrupting voting.
In Bihar, a homeguard and a police official on election duty were shot dead and another injured by naxals in Singhpur village in Gaya district, two other policemen were reported missing.
Balakrishnan said that 1.85 lakh polling stations were involved in Thursday’s exercise of which 76,000 polling stations came under some degree of naxal threat.
Across the regions which went to polls on Thursday, voting was disrupted at 86 polling stations, 71 of them by naxals, he said adding the election was "largely peaceful."
Noting that most of the naxal-affected areas were kept together in the first phase, he said EC was aware of this particular challenge and kept a close watch on the polling.
He said the polling percentage ranged from 46 percent in Bihar to 86 percent in Lakshadweep.
Balakrishnan said the tentative polling percentage in Andhra Pradesh was recorded 65 percent, Arunachal Pradesh (62), Assam (62), J&K (48), Kerala (60), Maharashtra (54), Manipur (68), Meghalaya (65), Mizoram (52), Nagaland (84), Orissa (53), Uttar Pradesh (50), Chhatisgarh (51), Jharkhand (50) and Andaman and Nicobar (62).
He said the polling percentage is likely to increase as the voting was in progress in some places and in some others the polling parties were yet to return.
A decision on repoll will be taken in consultation with the observers.Balakrishnan said 201 people were arrested including two legislators and a candidate from Bihar.
He said polling in Jammu Parliamentary constituency and in Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh was incident-free.