Millions vote in critical third phase of election (Lead, Roundup)

New Delhi, April 10: Millions in India voted peacefully Thursday across 14 states and union territories in a critical third phase of the parliamentary elections to pick 91 of the 543 Lok Sabha members.It includes seven seats in the national capital whose control is considered important for any party seeking to sit in the seat of power in New Delhi.

In town after town, voter enthusiasm was high in both working and middle class areas. In a few places, brisk polling was reported even in affluent areas – where election enthusiasm used to be tepid – indicating that voting figures may touch a record high.

An estimated 50 percent of the 191 million electorate had voted in eight hours of brisk polling, with men and women of all age groups queuing up at the 140,850 voting centres from the time they opened at 7 a.m.

Officials overseeing the mammoth exercise were kept busy checking identity cards of the voters and inking their fingers.

Although the staggered nine-phase balloting began April 7, the first two rounds involved only 13 constituencies from the country’s northeast where the BJP is not a major player.

Political analyst G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, who is with the BJP, said Thursday’s polling was important because the 91 seats were almost a sixth of the total Lok Sabha seats.

This round is also crucial because it includes three states where the Bharatiya Janata Party failed to win a single seat in 2009: Kerala, Delhi and Haryana.

For the same reason, the Congress, which won 50 more seats in 2009 over the 2004 Lok Sabha battle, has to retain its seat tally if it has to stand up to the aggressive BJP.

Thursday’s balloting is also important for the Aam Aadmi Party, the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Shiv Sena, the MNS, the Left and the Janata Dal-United.

The Election Commission said the polling was peaceful everywhere barring Bihar.

In Bihar, two Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed when Maoists exploded a concealed land mine in Munger district when they were on their way to neighbouring Jamui where polling was on. Maoists also blasted a school in Bihar’s Lakhisarai district.

A total of 1,414 candidates are in the fray Thursday.

The balloting covered all 20 seats in Kerala, 10 each in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra and Odisha, nine in Madhya Pradesh, all seven seats in Delhi, six in Bihar, four in Jharkhand and one each in Chhattisgarh, Jammu, Chandigarh, Lakshwadeep and Andaman and Nicobar Island.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal voted in separate polling centres in New Delhi. Former BJP president Nitin Gadkari voted in Nagpur.

A smiling Gandhi flashed her inked finger but did not speak to the media.

Congress leader Ajay Maken, who was with her, earlier claimed that voters were sure to give the Congress-led UPA another five-year term.

Kejriwal said he was confident the AAP would win all seven seats in Delhi, where he was chief minister for 49 days until Feb 14.

BJP leader Harsh Vardhan was equally confident that the BJP would crush the Congress thanks to the “Modi wave” — a reference to his party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.

“Modi wave is a reality… both rural and urban voters are with us,” a BJP candidate, Meenakshi Lekhi, told IANS.

Even as the third round continued, Modi and Congress leaders continued to campaign in other states. Kejriwal left for Punjab to campaign for the AAP candidates in the state.

IANS