Indian women queue to cast their vote at a polling booth in Alwar. Photo: AFP
A very high voters' enthusiasm was witnessed in the sixth phase of polling yesterday covering 117 parliamentary constituencies spread across 12 states in India's long drawn-out national elections as the race to the Lok Sabha narrowed the gap on the two-third-way mark with stakes high for frontrunner Narendra Modi-led opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and ruling Congress.
Yesterday's turnout in all the 11 states and 1 Union territory, including Mumbai, was higher than the previous Lok Sabha elections in 2009, in sync with the trend witnessed in the five earlier phases this time.According to Election Commission data, voters' turnout ranging from 60 to 75 per cent had marked all the previous five phases .
While the highest turnout of 83 per cent was recorded in the lone seat of Puducherry followed by West Bengal (82 per cent for six seats) and 73 per cent for all the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu which saw singled-phased polling on Thursday.
Only two states — Rajasthan (59.2 per cent for five seats) and Maharashtra (55.33 per cent for 19 seats) — registered below 60% turnout.
Jammu and Kashmir's Anantnag constituency, where PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti in in fray, recorded the lowest turnout of 28 per cent.
An estimated average of 60 per cent of about 180 million voters exercised their franchise to decide the electoral fate of nearly 2100 candidates including political heavyweights like India' s Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid, chief of Samajwadi Party Mulayam Singh Yadav and Indian President Pranab Mukherjee's son Abhijit.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cast his vote along with his wife Gursharan Kaur and he told the media, "I don't think our country is struck by Modi wave. It is a creation of the media. Congress is not losing ground. We will win with a majority."
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh holds up his ink-marked finger as he poses alongside his wife for a photograph after casting his ballot at a polling station in Guwahati, the capital of the northeastern state of Assam, yesterday. Photo: AFP
After yesterday's polling the voting to 347 of the total of 543 Lok Sabha seats were over, with 216 seats left in the remaining three of the total of nine phases of the elections. Polling for the final phase covering 41 seats will be held on May 12 before votes are counted four days later.
Yesterday's was the second biggest phase of the staggered elections — after the fourth phase held on April 17 covered 121 seats — stretching to the country's Jammu and Kashmir state in the north, Assam in the east and Maharashtra in the west besides Tamil Nadu in the southern tip.
The sixth phase also covered 12 of the 80 seats in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, 10 in Madhya Pradesh and seven in Bihar, apart from a handful in West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh states.
Politically the most important part of yesterday's polling was the 39 parliamentary seats in Tamil Nadu where BJP and a cluster of smaller regional parties have firmed up a rainbow alliance which is projected by opinion polls as having a realistic chance of bagging six to seven seats.
If BJP and its allies manage to pick up the seats in Tamil Nadu, it will challenge the traditional view that no national party can survive in the state without the help of either DMK or AIADMK.
The 19 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, including India's financial and entertainment capital Mumbai, are crucial as the state's ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance is projected to be struggling in the state which has a total of 48 seats.
Mumbai city has six parliamentary seats all of which had been won by Congress in 2009.
Stakes are high for BJP in the 12 constituencies that went to poll in Uttar Pradesh as the party had been decimated there five years ago. Narendra Modi campaigned hard in the state where opinion polls projected BJP to be making good gains this time.
In the seven seats decided in Bihar, the challenge for BJP will be to retain four of them where there is a sizable Muslim population and the party faces a resurgent Rashtriya Janata Dal headed by Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Voting has been completed in Assam's six seats, Chhattisgarh's seven and Jharkhand's four with yesterday's polling. Of the six seats in West Bengal, Pranab Mukherjee's son is reported to be fighting an uphill battle to hold on.
A total of 819 million adults are eligible to vote in the ongoing multi-phase election.