Polling picked up for the 10 Lok Sabha and 70 assembly seats in Odisha with 17% voting in early hours Thursday, an official said. "At least 17 percent voters, on an average, exercised their franchise in Odisha by 11 a.m.," the state's joint chief electoral officer, Jyoti Prakash Dash, told IANS.
Dash said the polling was peacefully underway across the state except for some disturbances in Maoist-hit Malkangiri district. According to the preliminary information, some people allegedly set fire to voting machines meant for four polling stations in Mathili area of the district. Officials were trying to ascertain the details about the incident, Dash said. People stood in long queues outside the polling centres in many places before the balloting started at 7 a.m.
Over 13 million electors are eligible to cast their votes in the first phase of elections in the state. There are a total of 28,880,850 voters in the state. Polling for the remaining 11 Lok Sabha and 77 assembly seats would be held in the second phase April 17.
Security was tight, and paramilitary personnel and police have been deployed in vulnerable areas to ensure trouble-free polling. Defying boycott call given by Maoists, people came to exercise their franchise in the southern districts of Koraput, Malkangiri, Rayagada, Kalahandi and Kandhamal.
Prominent candidates in the first phase are Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, and two former chief ministers and senior Congress leaders, Giridhar Gomang and Hemananda Biswal. State Revenue Minister Surya Narayan Patro, former union minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Jual Oram, state BJP president K.V. Singh Deo, and Congress leader Narasingh Mishra are also in the fray.
Odisha saw intense campaigning by political heavyweights, including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, vice president Rahul Gandhi, BJP chief Rajnath Singh and prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi.