101Reporters Desk | Apr 17, 2019 | 7 min read
LS Elections: With EVM malfunction, sporadic violence, second phase records 64 percent voter turnout
T R Gopalakrishnan
Bengaluru: Given that voting in the larger states in the Hindi belt is spread across five to seven phases, the focus at the end of phase two of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections has been entirely on the five southern states, excluding Kerala where all 20 LS seats will go to polls in the third phase on April 23. The second phase recorded 64.28 percent voter turnout till 7pm.
A strong showing in the total of 127 seats in these five Southern states is crucial for both Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi to achieve their ambitions in Delhi. Both tried with mixed success to stitch alliances in all the states. In Andhra Pradesh (73 percent voting) and Telangana (60 percent turnout), where polling was completed on April 11, neither was able to form an alliance with any of the regional parties.
Tamil Nadu which had single phase polling on April 18 and saw over 60 percent turnout, the two main Dravidian parties AIADMK and DMK, allied with the BJP and Congress, respectively, and have a long wait to see which way the voters have swung. Kerala will be completed on April 23, but will no longer see a straight fight between Congress and CPM. The BJP now sees itself as a serious contender in a couple of seats, and the party is hoping to win its first ever Lok Sabha seat from Kerala riding on the Hindu-Sabarimala sentiments.
But much of the focus on April 18 was the polling for 14 seats in Karnataka, which saw two important firsts. One, for the first time, Congress and JD(S) are contesting as allies. And two, for the first time, two grandsons of a former prime minister are in the fray and both facing strong challenges.
The state recorded a voter turnout of 66.63 percent till 7 pm.
These 14 seats, in Bengaluru, the old Mysore region and the coastal belt were evenly split in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls with BJP and Congress winning six each and the JD(S) two. On paper, poll percentage arithmetic would suggest the Congress coalition winning a majority of these seats. But present voting patterns rarely follow past percentages. Especially when undercurrents of resentment in the coalition ranks are plainly visible over seat allocation and candidate selection.
It is in these 14 seats that the alliance really has to deliver if the Congress is to make a sizeable dent into the BJP numbers. But the automatic transfer of all Vokkaliga votes to the Congress is far from sure. With JD(S) having little clout in the remaining seats going to the polls on April 23, these 14 seats are critical if the Congress is to reverse the 2014 result which saw BJP winning 17 of the state’s 28 seats.
Countrywide, the second phase covered 97 seats in 11 states and Puducherry, a union territory (the first phase on April 11 covered 91 seats across 18 states and two UTs). West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Chattisgarh, Maharashtra and Bihar were among states that saw voting in both phases.
Maharashtra, where the Shiv Sena-BJP tie up is up against the Congress-NCP alliance, had some big names from all the parties in the 10 seats (seven were completed in the first phase) that saw about the same first phase percentage of 56 percent voting Thursday. These big names included former Chief Minister and MP Ashok Chavan, and former Union minister Sushil Kumar Shinde of Congress, Pritam Munde, daughter of senior BJP leader late Gopinath Munde and a sitting MP, and Anand Adsul of Shiv Sena. During the 2014 elections, NDA had swept these seats.
Since the 10 seats were spread across Vidarbha, Marathwada and Southern Maharashtra, soaring temperatures saw voters reach polling booths early. Political parties and the administration worked hard to get people to vote, wanting to exceed the 56 percent first phase voter turnout. The Nanded district administration decorated an all-women staffed polling booth, named Sakhi booths, as one would for a wedding. Voters were greeted in the traditional Maharashtrian manner.
Only three seats saw voting in Chattisgarh (one seat in the first phase)---Mahasamund, Rajnandgaon and the reserved Kanker seat. Polling was expected to exceed the first phase’s 56 percent, despite Maoist triggering a bomb and an encounter with security forces in different parts of the state. Voters did turn out in sufficient numbers, especially women, third genders, brides, bridegrooms, even a patient, Basanta Bai, 65, who preferred to vote first and then get admitted to hospital. “This festival arrives once in five years, health conditions go up and down,” said Basanta. As per latest reports, seven villages of Gariaband district reportedly boycotted the polls demanding a bridge at Senmunda Ghat on Telnadi. Only four votes were registered from these seven villages.
Except for Assam which saw five seats vote in each of the two phases, all the other north eastern states are done with voting and have all registered high voter turnout of over 65 percent in both phases, with Tripura, where one seat saw voter turnout of 81 percent in the first phase. The only other constituency which could see voter turnout close to this number is Mandya in Karnataka, where the chief minister’s son was pitted against late actor Ambareesh’s wife Sumalatha, who had BJP’s support.
Assam is seeing some interesting contests in seats like Silchar, where it is a close fight between BJP's Rajdeep Roy and Sushmita Dev, the sitting Congress MP. BJP spokespersons Rupam Goswami and Subhas Dutta claimed “the state is going to be a Ram Rajya”. EVM malfunction was reported in areas like Nagaon, Karimganj and parts of Dima Hasao district (North Cachar Hills Dist). “I am waiting since 9 am, but unable to cast my vote because EVM is not working,” said a voter in Mongoldoi.
Polling in Inner Manipur constituency, which saw some incidents of violence in which EVMs were destroyed, has an interesting sidelight. Bishesh Huirem, 29, who represented India at the Miss International Queen in 2016, a beauty pageant for transgender women, said she would vote for the right candidate and not for a political party. The transgender beauty queen was chosen as an election icon for the second time in the 2019.
The worst incidents of violence were not reported from insurgent northeast, but from Mamata Bannerji’s West Bengal, where only two seats voted in the first phase with a turnout of 81 percent.
Some violence took place in all the three seats voting Thursday---Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling and Raiganj. In Raiganj, the CPM candidate’s vehicle was pelted with stones. Veteran Left leader and CPM MP Md. Salim's car was attacked with bricks. A BJP worker, Sishupal Sahis, was found hanging from a tree in Purulia. The state’s BJP leaders have filed a complaint with the EC.
Sadly, in Odisha, a female poll officer, Sanjukta Digal, was killed by Naxals in Kandhamal district when headed towards the polling booth along with her team. The EC has announced a compensation of Rs 30 lakh to Digal’s family.
In Odisha, the second phase saw polling for five Lok Sabha (four in the first phase) and 35 Assembly segments. EVM malfunction was reported from several places, but did not cause any major disruption in voting. Voter turnout is expected to be close to 68 percent turnout recorded in the first phase.
-With inputs from Angarika Gogoi, Ashwin Aghor and KN Kishore
PIc by: Abdul Kathar
More stories published under