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Indians vote in second phase of mega election


People wait in queues to cast their votes outside a polling station during the second phase of general election in Hojai district in the northeastern state of Assam, India on April 18, 2019 (Photo: REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika).

VOTERS across India cast ballots today (18) in the second round of the country’s mega elections amid more deadly violence including a poll worker gunned down by Maoist rebels.

More than 155 million people are eligible to vote in the second phase, which covers 95 parliament constituencies in 12 states including parts of restive Jammu and Kashmir.

India’s parliament has 545 members.

Authorities ramped up security again, but in the eastern state of Odisha, a female poll worker was gunned down by suspected Maoist rebels hours before voting started, media reported.

In central Chhattisgarh state, security forces raided a Maoist jungle camp in Dantewada district, killing two insurgents allegedly involved in an attack on an election convoy just before the first round of voting which left five dead, police said.

In Kashmir, tens of thousands of troops, paramilitaries and police were deployed as the main city of Srinagar was one of 95 constituencies across India to take part in voting.

Srinagar was a virtual ghost town with polling stations almost deserted.

By mid-morning, just a handful of voters had turned up at a polling station in a local school, where more than a dozen armed police in bullet-proof vests were posted.

“I hope whoever is elected this time will help get my son a job,” one male voter said, declining to give his name.

Outside another station, a 55-year-old man said he would not vote. “Our leaders have called for the boycott of all Indian elections,” he said.

But in many constituencies across India, men and women lined up from the early morning.

Thousands of candidates from more than 2,000 parties are competing for 543 seats in parliament.

The last vote is on May 19 and final results will be released on May 23.

“I am sure all those whose seats are polling today will strengthen our democracy by exercising their franchise,” Modi tweeted as polls opened.

At a college in Agra, less than two kilometres (a mile) from the Taj Mahal, dozens of voters waited in line as polls opened.

“I voted because it’s my right, it’s my right to choose a good candidate,” said 32-year-old tour guide Yusuf Ali.

“For us, it’s the development, the education, the employment, that’s the main criteria for us,” he said.

In Southern India, the voters across swaths of the region began queuing up early today.

The southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where the main opposition Congress party and its allies need to win big if they hope to oust Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP secured a landslide majority in the previous general election in 2014, in part by winning sweeping victories in six northern states that gave the party 70 per cent of all its seats, said Neelanjan Sircar, an assistant professor at Ashoka University near the capital, New Delhi.

“You can never expect you’ll do that again,” he said. “Those seats that you lose, you’ll have to make up somewhere.”

Sircar also said the BJP would be looking to make gains in Karnataka.

Voters in Bengaluru, once a sleepy retirement town that has been transformed into India’s technology hub, said they wanted lawmakers who would fix infrastructure problems such as traffic congestion and poor water management.

“We have been voting every time expecting a change but nothing has come so far. People are talking about national issues,” said Manjunath Munirathnappa.

“But only when they fix the local issues will there be progress in the nation,” he added.

(AFP/Reuters)