Sixty-four Lok Sabha seats are up for grabs in today’s round of general elections, which is the penultimate. These constituncies are spread from Ladakh in the north to Andhra Pradesh in the south. In all, 1,737 candidates are fighting it out with about 18.47 crore voters choosing between them.
In the Seemandhra part of Andhra Pradesh, polling is being held for 25 seats alongwith simultaneous assembly polls for 175 constituencies. The stakes are high for YS Jaganmohan Reddy’s YSR Congress. The BJP will be hopeful of a strong showing in partnership with N Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP. The new state of Telangana, where polling was held on 30 April, will come into being on 2 June.
Voting in Uttarakhand (5 seats) and Himachal Pradesh (4 seats) will end in one go. Polling will also end in Jammu and Kashmir with voting in Baramulla and Ladakh.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi (Amethi), Union Steel Minister Beni Prasad Verma, Union HRD Minister M.M. Pallam Raju and ex-Indian cricketer Mohammad Kaif, BJP’s Varun Gandhi (Sultanpur), former television actress Smriti Irani (Amethi) and Rajiv Pratap Rudy (Saran), Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan (Hajipur) and Rabri Devi (Saran), and are some of the high-profile contestants in this round.
While Paswan hopes to break his previous record of victory margin of over 4.24 lakh votes in the 1977 Lok Sabha polls this time, a polling agent of his was caught on camera distributing cash among the voters. TV footages showed the man hiding currency notes of Rs 100 denomination in the thief pocket of his kurta and trying to influence voters in the queue at booth number 81 of Hajipur. Paswan’s supporters were seen intimidating the TV crew not to carry the story. A team of Election Commission (EC) officials later rushed to the spot and analysed the video footage of the TV news channels; it will initiate a punitive action if necessary.
In West Bengal, Trinamool Congress and Left Front workers have reportedly clashed in west Midnapore. TMC workers are reported to have stopped the vehicle of a CPI candidate while he was on his way to a polling booth. Police and election officials have arrived at the spot. Following numerous complaints of rigging in the last round of elections held in the State, the EC has arranged for additional security forces outside polling booths, it claims. However, we have evidence to suggest that is far from the truth. Outside Booth No. 64 of the Aichbadi Primary School in Bishnupur, for example, just a lathi-wielding National Volunteer Force guard (home guard) and two policemen with outdated rifles were spotted.
As regards the apprehension of terrorist attacks on polling stations, over 800 kilograms of explosives and 130 improvised bombs have been retrieved by security forces from Naxal areas since the announcement of Lok Sabha polls on March 5. Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and Odisha are the main areas from where these explosives have been retrieved by the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). A maximum of 61 improvised explosive devices were recovered from Bihar, 34 from Jharkhand, 26 from Chhattisgarh and nine from Odisha till April 30. The total number of these locally-made IEDs stood at 130.
Rahul Gandhi has objected to a lotus drawn on the blackboard at a polling station in Amethi. He said he would bring the matter to the EC’s notice. AAP candidate Kumar Vishwas has alleged that the Mahmoodpur pooling booth was captured in Amethi constituency. He also claimed that no official acted on his complaint despite repeated pleas.
In Bihar, where voting is being held for 7 seats, around 9.5% voting was recorded till 9 am. Amethi witnessed 10.4% voter turnout till then. Seemandhra witnessed 15% voter turnout in the first two hours of polling. Bengal leads the race once again. The State recorded a polling percentage of 24 till 9 am.