New Delhi: Death of two people in Andhra Pradesh clashes, an IED blast in Maharashtra, reports of EVM glitches and multiple complaints from voters about their names not being on the electoral list or the indelible ink fading made for a troubled start to the Lok Sabha election 2019 on Thursday.
The first-phase Lok Sabha constituencies included all 25 seats in Andhra Pradesh, 17 in Telangana, five in Uttarakhand, two in Meghalaya, two in Arunachal Pradesh and lone seats in Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland, Sikkim, Andaman and Nicobar, and Lakshadweep.
Besides, eight seats in Uttar Pradesh, seven in Maharashtra, five in Assam, four each in Bihar and Odisha, two each in Jammu and Kashmir and West Bengal and one seat in Chhattisgarh are also part of the first-phase. These states are having multi-phase voting.
The Election Commission said Bihar saw 50 per cent turnout, the lowest for the first phase. The two seats in J&K — Jammu and Baramulla — recorded 54.49 per cent vote, down from 57.19 per cent in 2014. The state also saw protests over defective EVMs in some areas and at least one incident of firing.
In Mizoram, where the entire state went to polls in a single phase, recorded a dip in turnout. While last time the turnout was 61.95 per cent, this time it was 60 per cent.
Similarly in Lakshadweep, the percentage this time was 66 as compared to 86 in 2014.
In Arunachal Pradesh, where both the constituencies went to polls, the turnout stood at 66 per cent as compared to 86 per cent in 2014
As round one of the seven-phased Lok Sabha election began in 91 constituencies across 18 states and two Union territories, reports of unrest and irregularities cast shadows over the world's biggest poll process.
There were reports of violence from Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh while the chiefs of several parties, including TDP's N Chandrababu Naidu, AAP's Arvind Kejriwal and PDP's Mehbooba Mufti, came forward to complain about administrative and other lapses.
In Andhra Pradesh, where elections are being held for 25 Lok Sabha and 175 Assembly seats, one worker from the ruling Telugu Desam Party and one from the main opposition YSR Congress were killed in a clash in a village in Tadipatri Assembly constituency in Anantapuramu district
Condemning the killing of his party worker, TDP president Chandrababu Naidu accused the YSR Congress of indulging in violence to win the election. The opposition countered it by saying followers of local TDP MP and MLA, the JC brothers (MP JC Diwakar Reddy and MLA JC Prabhakar Reddy) tried to rig votes in a polling booth in Veerapuram village.
The two parties clashed in other parts of the state as well with reports of stone-throwing and allegations of attacks and vandalism coming in from Eluru city as well as from Jammalamadugu in Kadapa district and Narsaraopet constituency in Guntur district.
Elsewhere in the state, Madhusudan Gupta, a candidate of the Jana Sena Party, was arrested after he smashed an EVM in Guntakal, alleging that party symbols were not properly printed on the ballot unit.
In Odisha, zero per cent polling was recorded in some Maoist-hit areas of Malkangiri district, while villagers in some places boycotted elections over local demands.
In Maharashtra, Naxals triggered an IED blast near a polling booth in Waghezari area of Gadchiroli district while voting was underway, police said. There were no casualties.
West Bengal, where voting took place for two Lok Sabha seats, saw the maximum 81 per cent voting, while state election officers put the voting percentage at 73 per cent in Andhra Pradesh, where violent clashes left at least two persons dead.
In the Naxal stronghold of Chhattisgarh, four guerrillas were arrested and firearms seized from them in Bijapur district while the poll process was underway. In the early hours of the morning, Naxals detonated an IED in Narayanpur in Bastar region. No casualties were reported here too.
Many miles away, an IED was detected in an oil pipeline passing through a tea garden in Assam's Dibrugarh district. Security forces rushed to the spot to ensure there is no trouble.
In Kairana in western Uttar Pradesh, BSF personnel fired in the air at a polling booth when some people, who were not carrying their identity cards, tried to forcibly enter the premises to cast their votes, police said.
If the sporadic incidents of violence was one worry, the other was the reports of EVM glitches and voters not being allowed to exercise their franchise.
"No developed country is using EVMs as they are prone to manipulation. We have hence been demanding that we revert to the ballot paper system," Naidu said after casting his vote in Undavalli village in Amravati amid numerous reports of EVMs not functioning properly.
Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal took to Twitter and tagged people who claimed their names or the names of their relatives have been deleted from voter lists.
"What is happening EC? Are these elections fair?" Kejriwal asked.
"Anti-BJP votes deleted all across India. Reports coming from all across India that votes have been deleted on unprecedented scale. Why are all faulty EVM machines seen to be voting always for BJP?" he said in a tweet.
Businesswoman Kiran Mazumdar Shaw's mother was one of those whose name was deleted.
"My mother's voter ID has been deleted on some flimsy excuse that there was a report that she no longer lives at her address. She is so upset I can't tell you becos she has been at the same address for 19 years. So much for 'verification'," Shaw said in a tweet.
In Jammu and Kashmir, the National Conference and the PDP alleged that uniformed personnel coerced people to vote for the BJP and EVMs malfunctioned in some places with the Congress button not working during polling in Jammu's Poonch area.
PDP president Mehbooba Mufti tweeted a video showing voters raising anti-BJP slogans after they were purportedly roughed up by the BSF for not voting for the BJP.
"Using armed forces at polling stations to coerce people to vote for the BJP shows their desperation & hunger to usurp power by hook or crook," PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said in her tweet.
According to National Conference's Jammu provincial president Davinder Singh Rana, a uniformed officer coerced voters in Poonch's Arai Malka area to vote for the BJP.
A local administration official reached the spot and the uniformed officer has been removed following complaints by the voters, he said.
National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah posted a video of presiding officer from Poonch area explaining the malfunctioning of an EVM button.
Assuring that voting, which was stalled in some polling booths in Poonch region, would soon resume, the presiding officer was asked which button was not working.
"Haath ka button (button showing hand)," he said. The hand is the election symbol of the Congress party.
More than 14 crore people are listed to vote in the first phase, held in 91 Lok Sabha constituencies spread across 18 states and two union territories. The votes for the election, being held over seven phases, will be counted on May 23.