World’s biggest democratic exercise begins

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Polling for six constituencies in India’s 543-seat Lok Sabha started on Monday, kicking off the first of the nine-phase polls to elect those who will guide the fortunes of the world’s most populous democracy in the next five years.

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All the six constituencies going to vote on Monday were in the country’s Northeast bordering Bangladesh — five in Assam and one in Tripura.

The next phase on Wednesday will take the polling to other Northeastern states before the huge exercise involving 815 million voters moves into the country’s mainland.

Opinion polls so far indicate the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerging as the single largest party and the NDA coalition it leads securing anything between 190 to 230 seats.

Some commentators say the NDA might get more that will bring it within hand shaking distance of the magic majority mark of 272.

But getting allies for the NDA may not be easy as its campaign has revolved round one man — the BJP’s prime minister candidate Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, a deeply polarising figure accused of complicity in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in his home state Gujarat.

Most regional parties operating in state with Muslim voters are likely to shun the NDA led by Modi for fear of losing support among the minorities.

Balloting for five Lok Sabha constituencies in Assam began 8am on Monday, marking the first phase of India’s general election, IANS reported from state capital Guwahati.

An estimated 6.4 million people are eligible to vote in Tezpur, Jorhat, Kaliabor, Dibrugarh and Lakhimpur constituencies where voting is taking place across 8,588 centres in the five seats.

A total of 51 candidates are in the fray in the first phase. Assam will elect the remaining nine Lok Sabha members April 12 (three) and 24 (six).

Ten candidates are in the fray in Jorhat, nine in Tezpur, 13 each in Kaliabor and Lakhimpur and six candidates in Dibrugarh.

Among Monday’s candidates are lottery baron Mani Kumar Subba (independent), Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s son Gourav Gogoi, outgoing Congress MP Bijoy Krishna Handique, veteran Communist Drupad Borgohain, BJP state president Sarbananda Sonowal, union Minister of State for Tribal Affairs Ranee Narah, Mamud Imdadul Haque Choudhury of AIUDF, union minister Paban Singh Ghatowar, Rameswar Teli of the BJP and Anoop Phukan of the AGP.

The BJP is putting up a stiff challenge to the Congress in Assam where the Congress has been in power for three terms since 2001.

Polling also began at 8am for the West Tripura seat, where the ruling CPI (M) candidate Sankar Prasad Dutta is pitted against the Congress candidate Arunoday Saha (a former VC of Tripura university) and Tfrinamul Congress candidate Ratan Chakrabarty, a former minister.

The CPI(M) is likely to retain the two seats in Tripura but it is to be seen whether the Trinamul Congress can pip the Congress and emerge as the main challenger to the CPI(M) led Left Front in Tripura.

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