Both BJP and Congress claim victory on Day 1

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on April 11, 2019

Voters waiting to cast their votes at the polling station in Gaur city, Greater Noida, in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday   -  SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Over 14 crore votes cast in 20 States

The biggest carnival of democracy got under way on Thursday with 14 crore people across 20 States voting in the first phase of Lok Sabha elections amid contrasting claims of victory from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi.

Sonia, who performed a Yagna before filing her nomination from Rae Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, reminded the ruling BJP of its surprise loss in 2004 general elections while the PM announced that he sensed a “Modi government wave” at an election rally in Assam.

Complaints galore

Simultaneously, complaints of omissions from voters’ list, EVM malfunction and malpractices were heard, most vociferously from Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) MP SC Mishra.

“What is happening EC? Are these elections fair?” Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal said on Twitter. “Anti-BJP votes deleted all across India. Reports coming from all across India that votes have been deleted on unprecedented scale. Why are all faulty EVM machines seen to be voting always for BJP?” he asked.

Besides these complaints, two deaths in Andhra Pradesh and a Naxalite attack in Chhattisgarh, and sporadic incidents of violence were reported from Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.

Low turnout at Kairana

The test case for the success of the Mahagathbandhan in Uttar Pradesh – Kairana where the sitting MP Tabassum Hasan of the Samajwadi Party is fighting to retain her seat against Pradeep Chaudhary of the BJP – the voting percentage fell from 73 per cent in 2014 to about 62.10 per cent by 6 pm on Thursday. Kairana is the laboratory of the Grand Alliance in the politically critical UP between Jat-dominated Rashtriya Lok Dal, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) that has its core vote among Jatavs and the Samajwadi Party that counts the Yadavs as its core voters.

The constituency was won in the 2018 bypoll by Tabassum Hasan, who had contested at the time on the RLD ticket. This time, she has been fielded as an SP candidate but represents the Mahagathbandhan. Locals believe that a fall in the vote percentage in Kairana translates into lack of enthusiasm among voters from both sides for different reasons.

“From the BJP, the cadre is disappointed in the choice of the candidate and the supporters of Tabassum Hasan seem to have become complacent. The denial of ticket to Mriganka Singh, the daughter of Gujjar strongman Hukum Singh, has disappointed the community and Tabassum Hasan is the choice candidate. But her voters seem to have decided that she has already won. That is the only possible explanation for the drop in voter turnout,” said Jitender Hooda, a farmer leader in Shamli (Kairana).

The vote percentage in rest of the seven constituencies in western UP that went to the polls in the first phase remained largely similar to the 2014 elections.

Naxal attacks

From Gadchiroli in Maharashtra and Bastar in Chhattisgarh, two areas with Maoist presence, police reported attacks on polling booths while some such moves were busted. No casualties, however, have been reported.

Of the seven constituencies in Maharashtra that voted in the first phase, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari is facing a stiff competition from Nana Patole of the Congress in Nagpur. Overall in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, where the BJP had won ten out of ten seats in 2014, the Congress-NCP alliance has reportedly made a surprising comeback and the contest is keen in most of the seven seats that went to the polls on Thursday.

In Jammu and Kashmir, the two regional parties National Conference and the PDP alleged that the defence personnel forced voters to vote for the BJP. “Using armed forces at polling stations to coerce people to vote for the BJP shows their desperation & hunger to usurp power by hook or crook,” former Chief Minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted.

‘Subversion of democracy’

For the Left which is fighting with its back to the wall, the election in their past bastion Tripura symbolised “subversion of democracy.”

Urging the poll panel to hold re-elections in about 460 polling booths, the CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said: “The main issue in Tripura is the total absence of Central forces, betraying the EC’s assurance of ‘formidable’ security arrangements to ensure a free and fair poll without intimidation and threats. Both Central and State governments are acting in tandem to subvert democracy.”

Published on April 11, 2019

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