After hectic political campaigning, the seven-phased Lok Sabha elections kicked-off on Thursday, April 11, and will continue till May 19. On the first day, polling was held in 91 out of 543 Lok Sabha constituencies spread over 18 states and 2 Union Territories. According to Deputy Election Commissioner Umesh Sinha, voting was conducted across 1.7 lakh polling stations across the country.
Sporadic violence, particularly in Andhra Pradesh, and widespread EVM glitches marked Phase-1 in the poll-bound states. Long queues and brisk voting was reported from many places with enthusiastic voters coming to the polling stations to participate in the world’s largest election. Turnout, while healthy, showed a decline from that in 2014.
States that kicked it off
People across Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, West Bengal, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep, exercised their franchise between 7 AM and 6 PM.
Among the northeastern states, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Sikkim and Tripura West, polling booths were open till 5PM, while in Manipur, Nagaland and Meghalaya, people were allowed to vote till 4 PM.
Polling in all the Lok Sabha constituencies of Andhra Pradesh (25), Telangana (17), Uttarakhand (5), Meghalaya (2) and Arunachal Pradesh (2) besides lone seats in Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim, Andaman and Nicobar, and Lakshadweep was held on Thursday in a single phase.
Eight seats in Uttar Pradesh, seven in Maharashtra, six in Bihar, five in Assam, four in Odisha, two each in Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal and one seat in Chhattisgarh also went to polls.
Contests to watch out for
With 1,279 candidates (only 8% women) in the fray and 14.21 crore people eligible to vote, a few high-stakes contests inaugurated the Indian general elections on Thursday.
Among the key leaders who stood for Phase-1 of Lok Sabha election were Nitin Gadkari (Nagpur), Kiren Rijiju (Arunachal West), and three Union ministers General VK Singh (Ghaziabad), Satyapal Singh (Baghpat) and Mahesh Sharma (Gautam Buddha Nagar).
The Araku constituency of Andhra Pradesh, reserved for scheduled tribes, went to polls yesterday, with a fascinating contest between former Union minister of tribal affairs V.K.C.S Deo and his daughter V. Shruti Devi. A pioneer of the Forest Rights Act, Deo recently quit the Congress to join the Telugu Desam Party. His daughter fought on a Congress ticket.
In Telangana’s Nizamabad, chief minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao’s daughter and sitting MP, K. Kavitha stood for election, against 184 candidates including 175 farmers as Independents protesting against the state government’s alleged insensitivity towards falling prices of turmeric and red jowar.
BJP leader Sanjeev Balyan who is the candidate from the high-octane UP constituency of Muzaffarnagar alleged that “fake” voting was taking place because faces of women wearing burqas were not being checked. His claims were dismissed by the EC.
Balyan, whose name cropped up as one of the instigators during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, is up against gathbandhan candidate and RLD chief Ajit Singh, backed by SP-BSP alliance. His son Jayant Chaudhary contested from Baghpat.
Peaceful polling barring a few incidents: EC
Nearly 55 lakh voters in Andhra Pradesh were reportedly deleted without proper verification.The Wire attributes these deletions to the improper linkage between electoral photo identity card (EPIC) and Aadhaar, initiated by the Election Commission in 2015, resulting in voters being left out of the election process.
Severe poll clashes in Andhra resulted in the deaths of two TDP and one YSR Congress Party workers. State speaker Kodela Sivaprasada Rao also reportedly fainted after he was attacked by YSRCP workers in Sattenapalle constituency.
Another clash between YSRCP and TDP was in Allagadda in Kurnool in the evening. CNN-News18 reported that over 10 incidents of clashes have been reported since the polling began in the state.
There have been several reports of EVMs not functioning in the state. TDP Chief N Chandrababu Naidu, in a letter to the Chief Election Commissioner, wrote that many voters had returned as around 30% EVMs across 157 centres were not working will 10 AM, demanding re-polling.
A Jana Sena Party candidate, Madhusudan Gupta, was arrested after he damaged an EVM at a polling station in the Guntakanal Assembly constituency of Anantapur district. He was reportedly angry with the polling officials over names of Assembly and Parliamentary constituencies not being displayed properly.
State Chief Electoral Officer of Assam, Mukesh Sahu, told PTI that polling was peaceful without any untoward incident, though there was a delay due to EVM malfunctioning in some booths spread across all the five constituencies. Late Thursday evening, the EC transferred the returning officer of Karimganj Lok Sabha constituency of Assam, Phoni Bhusan Roy, after receiving complaints against him from the central observers.
During the day, an official party account of the BJP tweeted this controversial announcement about the future of NRC, excerpted from Amit Shah’s recent rally in Darjeeling.
At least three persons were seriously injured in a clash between supporters of two rival political parties in Arunachal Pradesh, where 11 polling stations exclusively for female voters have been set up.
National Conference (NC) president and Jammu & Kashmir CM Omar Abdullah who allied with the Congress in March informed the press that the ‘Congress’ button was not working in Poonch polling stations.
“A voter at polling booth in Jammu was manhandled by the BSF because he refused to cast his vote for the BJP,” alleged PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti, whose PDP left the alliance with BJP last year over Article 35A.
“Why are all faulty EVM machines seen to be voting always for BJP?” asked Delhi CM and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal. “Why do most deleted voters turn out to be anti-BJP voters?” he further over Twitter.
At the end of Phase-1, West Bengal yielded the highest turnout of 80% voters, followed by Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Telangana.
Turnout in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region also showed healthy trends, even in Naxal-hit constituencies.
Around 23 percent voters exercised their franchise in the first four hours of polling in the Naxal-hit Bastar Lok Sabha constituency of Chhattisgarh on Thursday.
According to an election official, long queues of voters were seen at several polling booths, including in Dantewada district, where BJP MLA Bheema Mandvi and four security personnel (PSOs) were killed in a Naxal attack on Tuesday. The state witnessed a 52.6% voter turnout by the end and no more than 2 minor disruptions.
An average voter turn out of 17.20 percent was recorded in the first two hours in the election to the lone Mizoram Lok Sabha seat and bypoll to the Aizawl West-I assembly seat, an election official said. EC data shows a total turnout of 60.8% by the end of Phase-1.
Chief Electoral Officer of Odisha said, “We have been successful in conducting the first phase of polls in a free, fair and peaceful manner. There has been no untoward incident whatsoever reported in the polls. The failure rate of EVMs has been under 1%.” In 6 booths of Chitrakonda in Malkangiri district there has been no voting due to Naxal threat, according to ANI. Voter turnout at 5 PM reflected 66% of people exercising their franchise.
Apollo Hospital’s Shobana Kamineni took her grievance to the press, voicing the humiliation of thousands like her. Saying she felt cheated, she related her experience at a polling booth in Hyderabad where she was told that her vote had been deleted. “This is the worst day for me as an Indian citizen,” said the top executive, who had returned to India from a foreign tour just to vote. Telangana reported one of the lowest (50%) turnout at 3 PM, pulling it up to 60.57% at 5 PM.
In Kairana, Uttar Pradesh, Dalit voters were reportedly refused the right to vote by EC officials, despite their names being present on the voters’ list.
Over 59.8% percent polling was recorded till 5 PM in the eight Lok Sabha seats of western UP, while polling in Uttarakhand’s five Lok Sabha seats saw 57% percent voter turnout with people queuing up since early morning to exercise their franchise, an official said, reported PTI.
The fate of 52 candidates will be decided by over 78 lakh voters of Uttarakhand, where all the five seats — Tehri, Pauri, Haridwar, Almora and Nainital — are being held by the BJP.
To ensure free and fair polls
Live webcasting took place from thousands of polling booths across the country, to ensure free and fair elections.
The EC late Thursday confirmed 6 incidents of EVM malfunctioning in Andhra Pradesh, 5 in Arunachal Pradesh, 1 in Bihar, 2 in Manipur and 1 in West Bengal. The total seizure so far is Rs 2626 crore including cash Rs 607 crore, liquor worth Rs 198 crore, drug & narcotics worth Rs 1091 crore, precious metal worth Rs 486 crore, freebies and other items worth Rs 48 crore.
To alleviate voters’ doubt and distrust, poll observers recommend an exigent increase in the VVPAT verification of votes counted by EVMs, in the light of violations spotted on Day 1 alone.
The second phase of polling will be held on April 18 followed by five more phases until the next Indian government is elected.
Prarthana Mitra is a Staff Writer at Qrius