Chennai/Thiruvananthapuram: Millions voted on Monday in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, bringing down the curtains on staggered five-state elections -- the biggest popularity test since the Lok Sabha battle.
Some 40 million voted in Tamil Nadu, which saw multiple contests in all constituencies for the first time, and about 18 million in Kerala, where the BJP made determined efforts to make inroads in a state dominated by the Congress-led UDF and the LDF headed by the CPI-M.
The polling percentage in Kerala -- which elects a 140-seat assembly -- was 70.35 at 5 p.m. Election Commission officials said it could well cross the 75.12 per cent recorded in 2011 when the polling ends at 6 p.m.
Officials said over 65 percent of the 58 million electorate in Tamil Nadu had voted by 4 p.m.
In Tamil Nadu, the ruling AIADMK was pitted against the DMK-Congress alliance, a front led by the DMDK of actor-turned-politician Vijaykanth, the PMK and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Polling in two of the 234 constituencies has been postponed.
The main fight in Puducherry, which has a 30-member house, is between the Congress-DMK combine and the ruling All India NR Congress (AINRC).
In all three states, voting began on a brisk note at 7 a.m. and continued on that pace throughout the day. Long queues formed at all polling centres but the polling was largely peaceful.
In Kerala, both Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and CPI-M veteran V.S. Achuthanandan asserted that their coalitions were set to win the electoral battle.
Chandy, who heads the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF), said at his hometown Puthupally near Kottayam: "We are certain the people will give us one more chance."
Added Congress leader and former chief minister A.K. Antony: "For the first time in the state a ruling party is going to retain power. While the Left will remain in the opposition, the BJP won't win any seat."
But Marxist leader Achuthanandan, whose Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) heads the Left Democratic Front (LDF), was equally confident.
"There is a huge wave in our favour. We are heading for a landslide victory. People are going to show the exit door to Chandy."
State BJP president Kummanem Rajasekheran, contesting in Vatiyoorkavu in the state capital, said: "There is a strong opposition to both the Left as well as the Congress. That's why we are hugely confident."
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and AIADMK general secretary J. Jayalalithaa did not predict the outcome: "In two days, the verdict will be known," she said after voting in Chennai.
DMK chief and former chief minister M. Karunanidhi, his son and party treasurer M.K. Stalin and state BJP leader Tamilisai Soundararajan voted in Chennai too.
Karunanidhi said the DMK-Congress combine was poised to win and form the next government.
In Chennai, actors Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, Ajith, Sundar. C and Khushboo voted. In Kerala too, the Malayalam film industry turned out in strength to exercise their franchise.
The AIADMK is aligned with some smaller parties. The DMK's allies include the Congress, two Muslim parties and some smaller outfits. The third front has the DMDK, CPI-M, CPI, VCK, TMC and MDMK.
Staggered assembly elections began on April 4 in West Bengal and Assam.
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