Millions voted across 14 states and union territories Thursday in the third round of parliamentary elections to pick 91 of the country's 543 MPs. An estimated quarter of the 191 million electorate had voted by noon in five hours of balloting, with long queues of men and women seen right from the time the polling centres opened at 7 in the morning.
Voting picked up rapidly even in the few areas where it was initially dull. Officials at polling stations were kept busy checking identity cards of the voters and inking them. Voter enthusiasm was high in both working class and middle class areas. Electronic voting machines which broke down in a few places were quickly set right or replaced.
The Election Commission said the exercise all over was peaceful. In Delhi, a police officer told IANS: "All is under control."
In Bihar, however, two Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed when Maoists exploded a concealed land mine in Munger district when they were on their way to neighbouring Jamui where polling was on. A total of 1,414 candidates are in the fray Thursday, the third round of staggered national election that began April 7 in the country's northeast.
Thursday's balloting covered all 20 Lok Sabha constituencies in Kerala, 10 each in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra and Odisha, nine in Madhya Pradesh, all seven seats in Delhi, six in Bihar, four in Jharkhand and one each in Chhattisgarh, Jammu, Chandigarh, Lakshwadeep as well as Andaman and Nicobar Island.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi and AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal voted in separate polling centres in the national capital. Former BJP president Nitin Gadkari voted in Nagpur. After voting, a smiling Gandhi flashed her inked finger but did not speak to the media. Congress leader Ajay Maken, who was with her, earlier claimed that voters were sure to reward the Congress-led UPA with another five-year term.
Kejriwal said after voting that he was confident the AAP would win all seven seats in Delhi where he was chief minister for 49 days until Feb 14.
BJP leader Harsh Vardhan was equally confident that the Bharatiya Janata Party was set to sweep most Lok Sabha seats in contention Thursday due to the "(Narendra) Modi wave".
Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath hoped that voting percentage will keep improving with every round of the Lok Sabha election. He added that Thursday's voting was "critical ... because some of the sensitive areas in the country are going to the polls".
In Gurgaon, abutting Delhi, long queues were seen even in what is known as New Gurgaon, dominated by high-rise condominiums and shopping malls. Voters praised the "very organised" facilities, with senior citizens being given preference so that they did not have to stand in queues. One voter who showed a flight ticket was allowed to jump the queue and vote. Said Tishita Chopra, a housewife: "What impressed me were the excellent facilities and helpfulness of police and election personnel. Things were really working like clock-work."