NEW DELHI: The first phase of Indian general election started on Thursday with 91 Lok Sabha seats spread across 18 states and two union territories going to the polls, the first day of a nearly six-week-long process that constitutes the world’s largest democratic exercise.
According to Indian media reports the first two hours of voting were largely smooth, barring a few EVM glitches reported from Andhra Pradesh, Up and Bihar. Voters were seen queuing up early morning outside booths in Andhra Pradesh, Jammu, Uttar Pradesh, Manipur among other states.
Soon after the polling began, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged voters, especially mentioning first-time voters, to come out in large numbers and exercise their franchise.
A total of 142 million people will vote in 170,664 poll booths to decide the fates of 1,279 candidates. In addition to Lok Sabha elections, the states of Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim will vote for new assemblies on Thursday, as well parts of the coastal state of Odisha. The counting of votes will take place on May 23.
The biggest chunk of seats are up for grabs in Andhra Pradesh, which was carved out of a larger coastal province in 2014. Polling for all 25 Lok Sabha and 175 assembly seats will be held simultaneously. There are 2,118 candidates for the state polls and 319 for the Lok Sabha elections, whose fate will be decided by roughly 39 million voters.
The state of Telangana will also see all 17 Lok Sabha seats going to the polls. Having nearly swept the assembly elections in December, the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi is hoping for a strong showing in a state where the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are the opposition parties. There are 443 candidates in the fray. The Nizamabad Lok Sabha constituency is a special case as 185 candidates are fighting the polls, forcing the Election Commission to issue jumbo Electronic Voting Machines (EVM).
Congress leader Renuka Chowdary (Khammam), All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) president Asaduddin Owaisi (Hyderabad), state Congress president N Uttam Kumar Reddy (Nalgonda) and Kalvakuntla Kavitha (Nizamabad), daughter of the chief minister, are among the main candidates.
Uttar Pradesh will see eight seats in the communally sensitive western part of the state go the polls, where the ruling BJP will clash with the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)-Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) alliance. All eyes are on Muzaffarnagar, where RLD chief Ajit Singh will take on the BJP’s Sanjeev Balyan. His son Jayant Chaudhary is fielded against Union minister Satyapal Singh in Baghpat.
Seven Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra will go to polls, with Union roads minister Nitin Gadkari locked in a battle with Congress’s Nana Patole, a former BJP MP, in Nagpur. Union minister and BJP leader, Hansaraj Ahir, is seeking a fourth term from Chandrapur.
In Bihar, four Lok Sabha seats will see Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) leader Chirag Paswan take on Bhudeo Chaudhary of the Rashtriya Lok Samata Party in Jamui. In the North-east, Union minister Kiren Rijiju will seek election from Arunachal Pradesh West constituency; four seats in Assam will go to polls, with former chief minister Tarun Gogoi’s son Gaurav Gogoi fighting from Kaliabor.
In Chhattisgarh, the Maoist-affected Bastar seat will go the polls amid tight security following an attack that killed a BJP lawmaker and four security personnel.
In Odisha, four Lok Sabha and 28 assembly seats will go to the polls. Two seats each in West Bengal, Jammu and Kashmir and Meghalaya will see polling in the first phase. Other seats include Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim, Andaman and Nicobar, and Lakshadweep
Two seats in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir, Jammu and Baramulla, will vote on Thursday amid a boycott call by separatists and tight security to offset protests sweeping the Valley against an order to restrict civilian movement on highways two days a week.
In the sensitive Baramulla seat, there-tier security is in place with 400 additional companies [a unit typically comprising between 80 and 150 personnel] of forces deployed for security of the polling stations, voters and staff. Officials said around 30,000 additional forces have been deployed.