New Delhi: A high voter turnout was recorded in the third and largest phase of the Lok Sabha elections yesterday amid the killing of a man outside a booth in West Bengal and complaints of electronic voting machines malfunctioning.
The Election Commission of India put the voting percentage at around 66 per cent, but long queues of voters were seen at several centres even after the scheduled time for voting ended.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi cast his ballot in his home state of Gujarat and again underlined his focus on combating terrorism.
In Gujarat, Modi met his mother early in the morning and then rode in an open jeep past hundreds of onlookers to cast his vote shortly after 8am.
“IED is a weapon of terrorism, and voter ID is a weapon of democracy,” he told reporters after voting, referring to improvised explosive devices and voter identification cards. “I believe the voter ID is much more powerful than an IED.”
The general election, which has seven phases, began on April 11 and will end on May 19. Votes will be counted on May 23.
“This is, sort of, an inflection point,” said Rahul Verma, a fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think-tank. More than half of the constituencies will have voted by the end of the third phase.
Violence flared in the eastern state of West Bengal and one Congress worker was killed and at least three people were injured, a state deputy chief election officer, Sanjay Bose, said.
A Congress spokesman said the worker had been killed in a clash with supporters of Trinamool Congress, which denied that assertion. The election commission said it was investigating.
In Kerala, leaders of three political parties complained about electronic voting machine (EVM) malfunctions, but an election commission official said glitches were not widespread and there were enough replacement machines.
Indian officials travelled nearly 70km through lion-infested jungle this week to ensure a 69-year-old holy man got his chance to take part in the world’s biggest democratic exercise.
A four-member team of election officials, accompanied by a policeman, set up a special polling station deep in the Gir wildlife sanctuary in Gujarat state so a sole voter — Bharatdas Darshandas — could vote in the general election.
A priest who has lived at his remote forest temple for two decades, Darshandas has not missed an election since 2002, and cast his vote on Tuesday by walking nearly a kilometre to the special polling station.
Tuesday’s voting is important for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which won more than half of the 117 seats from the states voting on Tuesday in the 2014 elections that brought it to power. The BJP’s performance on Tuesday will have a bearing on its bid to retain power in New Delhi.
Voting also took place in Wayanad constituency in Kerala state, one of the two seats that the president of the opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, is contesting. His home bastion, Amethi, in Uttar Pradesh state will vote on May 6. Gandhi will give up one seat if he wins in both places.
Voting also was held for one seat in Indian-administered Kashmir, with the polls there spread over three phases due to security threats.