Stray violence as 55 per cent vote in Maharashtra

The bitter battle for Maharashtra ended Wednesday evening with over 55 percent of the 8.35 crore electorate voting in assembly elections that have pitted the BJP virtually against all others in the sprawling state for the first time.

Stray incidents of violence marred an otherwise peaceful election. Polling also took place for the Beed Lok Sabha seat following the death in June of central minister Gopinath Munde.

In Gadchiroli district, Maoists attempted to disrupt the polls by firing at a polling booth but security personnel returned fire. A woman politician in Digras in Yavatmal allegedly assaulted an election official but voting was not affected.

Mumbai saw celebrities, including industrialists, Bollywood stars, television actors and cricketers, queueing up to vote and urging people to follow suit to pick a 288-seat legislature.

Among those who voted were industrialist Anil Ambani, film personalities Rekha, Salman Khan, Sohail Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Javed Akhtar, Gulzar, Sonali Bendre, Anupam Kher, Jaya Bachchan, Hema Malini, Amol Palekar, Kiran Rao-Khan, Esha Deol and Nana Patekar.

The polling percentage in Mumbai, India's financial and movie capital, was estimated around 50 percent.

A total of 4,119 candidates were in the fray in the elections that saw Maharashtra's two main coalitions -- the BJP-Shiv Sena combine and the NCP-Congress alliance -- collapse, making the contest wide open but with advantage to a confident Bharatiya Janata Party.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the BJP's campaign, addressing scores of heavily attended rallies and prompting a verbal assault from its estranged ally, the Shiv Sena.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) was also a key contender. During the campaign, other parties attacked the BJP more than any other, making it a de facto BJP-versus-rest battle.

Security was tight at the 91,376 polling stations across the state, including more than 9,900 classified as "hyper sensitive" and 62 "sensitive" centres -- official euphemism to mean they could witness violence.

On Wednesday, the Shiv Sena asserted that it was the prime contender for power in Maharashtra.

In full front page advertisement in its party organs, the Sena thundered: "Dhanushyabaan Ki Tankaar Hai, Aani Ab Apni Sarkar Hai!"

'Dhanushyabaan' or bow and arrow is the Shiv Sena's election symbol.

In other big advertisements released in the Mumbai media, it dubbed its rivals demon king Ravana.

"Ravana was not killed by a 'hand' (Congress symbol), a 'clock' (NCP) or a 'flower' (BJP's lotus). He was taken down by a bow and arrow," the advertisements said.

"Take down the evils of corruption, load-shedding, policy paralysis, bad governance by voting for the bow and arrow," it exhorted voters.

Yavatmal also saw clashes between some villagers and security personnel, leaving a policeman injured. At least three political activists were injured in clashes in Aunjur-Dive village near Bhiwandi in Thane district.

In Mumbai, a vehicle belonging to Akhil Bharatiya Sena candidate Geeta Gawli was stoned by unknown rivals and damaged.

Polling was suspended for some time in two constituencies in Nagpur, one each in Nashik and Mumbai following glitches in the electronic voting machines.

In parts of Nagpur and Amravati, voting was affected following sudden thunderstorms accompanied by heavy rains.

In many places, people queued up even before polling centres opened at 7 in the morning. The voting ended at 6 p.m.

Among the early voters were former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar in Baramati, BJP leader Vinod Tawde in Mumbai and Pankaja Munde, daughter of the late Gopinath Munde, in Beed.

"Go vote" and "Get inked" is the mantra Bollywood stars like Salman Khan and Abhishek Bachchan spread among their fans via Twitter as they voted.

Said model Milind Soman: "Get out and vote! Be proud to be part of the largest democracy in the world, to keep it healthy is in our hands."

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