India’s newest state votes for the first time
HYDERABAD, India (AP) — Millions of people in nine states across India, including the newest state of Telangana, voted Wednesday in the latest phase of the country’s massive general election.
With 814 million eligible voters in India, the election is being held in phases over six weeks. Voters are choosing the 543 members of Parliament’s lower house, with results expected on May 16.
The voters included Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial hopeful from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. Modi, the chief minister of western Gujarat state, sparked a controversy by taking a photo of his inked finger while holding a small lotus flower, his party’s symbol, after he cast his vote. Angry supporters of the ruling Congress party complained to election authorities that Modi had flouted election laws by canvassing for votes in violation of rules forbidding campaigning on election day.
The two national parties are locked in a tense battle for control of the next national government, with Congress facing a possible drubbing due to corruption scandals and a recent economic slowdown.
On Wednesday, the seventh phase of the election, nearly 140 million people were eligible to vote for 89 seats in Parliament, including all 26 for Gujarat. Elections were also being held in northern Punjab state and in the eastern states of Bihar and West Bengal.
Fourteen constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, were also voting, including Rae Bareli, where Congress party President Sonia Gandhi is running.
Security was tight in Uttar Pradesh, with tens of thousands of paramilitary troops and police deployed across the state. In elections last week, supporters of political parties took over 11 polling stations in Rampur constituency, said Umesh Sinha, the state’s chief electoral officer. A new election was ordered and took place Tuesday.
Sinha said police were given shoot-on-sight orders to prevent any outbreak of violence or any attempt to disrupt Wednesday’s voting.
Abhinav Sharma, 24, said he waited for two hours in sweltering weather at a polling station in Lucknow, but was reluctant to vote for any of the candidates.
“Most politicians are thieves. They only contest elections to get rich quick. But I didn’t want to waste my vote, so I have cast my vote,” said Sharma, an information technology professional in the Uttar Pradesh capital.
Turnout in the Srinagar constituency in Indian-held Kashmir was low after separatist groups called for a boycott to protest India’s continuing rule over the disputed region. Thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers patrolled deserted streets.
Security forces detained about 700 Kashmiri residents ahead of the polls in a bid to prevent protests or violence. Despite the arrests, scores of protesters hurled rocks at polling stations and government forces at about 20 locations.
A young man was killed and two others critically injured as government forces fired at the protesters, police said. More clashes erupted after the firing incident. At least four policemen were injured, police said.
An election official was injured when a bus carrying poll officials was attacked by protesters with stones in another neighborhood of Srinagar, police said.
Indian-controlled Kashmir elects six members of Parliament’s lower house.
In Telangana, around 28 million people were expected to vote for 17 seats in Parliament and 119 seats in the state assembly.
Telangana, India’s 29th state, was carved out of Andhra Pradesh state in February after nearly six decades of street protests and strikes.
The excitement of voting for the first time in the new state ran high. People thronged polling stations, forming huge lines.
“I want a change,” said Puja Reddy, a 20-year-old engineering student.
Telangana supporters say statehood will bring more money to their underdeveloped area. But the move to create Telangana was opposed by the rest of Andhra Pradesh, which will eventually lose its capital city of Hyderabad to the new state.
The new state will be formally inaugurated on June 2.
Opinion polls have given Modi an edge in the election and indicate that the BJP could form India’s next government.
Modi’s critics say his image has been tainted by sectarian violence that ripped through Gujarat in 2002, killing nearly 1,000 Muslims. Modi, who has been chief minister of the state since 2001, is widely seen as having done little to stop the carnage.
Modi denies playing a role in the riots, and has never apologized or expressed remorse for them. In December, under pressure to speak about the violence, which has become a focal point of his candidacy, Modi spoke of his “anguish” over the bloodshed. The carefully worded statement appeared designed to convey that he had nothing to apologize for.
Associated Press writer Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar contributed to this report.