60 million vote in second last round of Lok Sabha battle
New Delhi: Over 60 million people Wednesday voted in 64 Lok Sabha constituencies across seven states - the number higher than the 2009 average - in the second last round of a staggered election widely tipped to usher in a new government.
Balloting ranged from brisk to very heavy in all places barring Baramulla in the Kashmir Valley where the fear of separatist groups kept most people indoors, Election Commission officials said.
The voting percentage overall was put at 63.8 - or 60.6 million of the 95 million electorate.
It ranged from 50 percent in Jammu and Kashmir, where balloting was held in Baramulla and Ladakh, to a whopping 81 in West Bengal where six constituencies went to the polls.
This was followed by 76 percent polling in Andhra Pradesh's 25 Lok Sabha seats, Himachal Pradesh (65 percent/four seats), Uttarakhand (62/5), Bihar (58/7) and Uttar Pradesh (55 percent/15 seats).
In all constituencies, the numbers who trooped to the polling booths were more than in 2009. But officials expressed surprise that the polling percentage had not crossed 60 percent despite a high decibel and at times acrimonious campaign in the populous states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
The huge voting in West Bengal came amid allegations by the Communist Party of India-Marxist that the ruling Trinamool Congress had indulged in widespread vote rigging.
Wednesday was an important day for Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi who visited Amethi - his constituency - on any polling day for the first time in a decade after BJP's Smriti Irani and AAP's Kumar Vishwas mounted a major challenge.
At the end of polling, both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Aam Aadmi Party claimed that Gandhi, who won from Amethi both in 2004 and 2009, will certainly lose. The Congress brushed aside the claim.
The Election Commission said long queues of men and women - the young and the old - were seen at almost all constituencies since morning.
Along with the general election, polling was also held Wednesday for 175 assembly seats in Seemandhra region, which will eventually go over to the residuary state of Andhra Pradesh.
About 20 people were injured in clashes between rival activists in parts of Seemandhra, including Anantapur, Kadapa, Chittoor, Guntur and Prakasam districts.
In Baramulla, the fear of separatists and Tuesday's militant attacks kept most voters away from polling stations. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is trying to snatch the Baramulla seat from the National Conference. The final voting percentage at around 40 percent.
But there was brisk polling in Kashmir's other constituency Ladakh, a Buddhist dominated region. It is also the country's largest parliamentary constituency. Ladakh reported at least 65 percent polling.
A total of 897 candidates fought it out in the 64 seats.
The electoral battle was also intense in hill states Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh where the BJP and the Congress were the main contenders.
Lok Sabha 2014 has become vocally bitter, with the BJP, determined to unseat the Congress-led UPA, and others locked in a bitter vocal campaign.
Even as polling continued Wednesday, BJP's prime ministerial aspirant Narendra Modi told a huge election rally in Valmiki Nagar constituency in Bihar that the Congress was on the run.
The BJP also hit out at the Election Commission after it didn't give permission to Modi to hold rallies Thursday in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh from where he is fighting his second Lok Sabha seat.
"It must be for the first time in Indian elections that a candidate is being denied permission to hold a rally in his own constituency," Nirmala Sitharaman of the BJP said.
Wednesday was the penultimate round of the 10-leg parliamentary election that began April 7 and will end May 12. The millions of votes cast across India will be counted May 16.