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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 October, 2004, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
Ballots cast in key Indian state
Voter in Mumbai
Voting in Mumbai - first major test of opinion since the general election
Voting has ended to choose the next government in one of India's key states, Maharashtra.

The ruling Congress party-led alliance is pitted against a Hindu nationalist alliance of Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Initial turnout figures for the state were just 45% and slightly lower in Mumbai (Bombay), poll officials said.

These were the first major Indian polls since Congress unseated the BJP-led alliance in general elections in May.

I will vote for someone who's honest - I don't look at political parties
Mumbai voter Sangeeta Agarwal

The vote coincided with a number of by-elections in other parts of India, three for seats in the national parliament and nearly 40 elections for various state assemblies.

The chief minister of Indian-administered Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, was amongst the candidates. In Uttar Pradesh state three people died in poll-related violence.

Disenchantment

More than 2,600 candidates, including many independents, were contesting the 288 state assembly seats in Maharashtra.

The state has a population of around 100m and about 65m eligible voters.

Elections come and go and hardly make any difference to us
Satya Prakash Agarwal,
voter in Pune

Votes cast electronically are to be counted on Saturday with results likely the same day.

Observers have been predicting a close race, with the rival alliances apparently neck-and-neck.

A clutch of lower-caste parties and independents, described in newspapers as "spoilers", could well hold the key in deciding the winner.

Analysts say the state election will be a political bellwether of sorts, deciding the immediate fortunes of India's main political parties.

In the general elections, the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance edged ahead in Maharashtra, winning 25 of the 48 seats, while the Congress-NCP mopped up 22 seats.

The main parties have fielded some of India's richest candidates, with a number of millionaires running.

However, there was a sense of disillusionment among many ordinary voters on Wednesday.

One voter in the state capital, Mumbai, Sangeeta Agarwal, said she was disenchanted with the corruption in politics.

Congress supporters
Congress supporters in Maharashtra hope to prevent a BJP revival

"I will vote for someone who's honest and who's a man of integrity. I don't look at political parties."

Another voter, Dayaram Kotwani, said: "I want an honest government. I look at the party and not the candidate before casting my vote."

In the city of Pune, shop owner Satya Prakash Agarwal, said: "Elections come and go and hardly make any difference to us."

Security was tight across the state for the vote.

Mumbai's police commissioner told the BBC more than 25,000 officers were guarding more than 6,000 polling stations in the city.

Thousands more were deployed in other parts of the state with campaigning marked by several minor clashes between Congress and BJP supporters.

Perilous state

Analysts say the dividing line between politics, big money and crime has blurred in Maharashtra.

Slums and high-rises in Bombay, India
Mumbai houses some of India's richest and poorest people
An independent citizen's group found that almost half of the candidates of the two main opposition parties face criminal charges.

Mumbai is India's main financial centre and home to Bollywood, the world's most prolific film industry - as well as to some of the globe's biggest slums.

At one Mumbai polling station, one of India's wealthiest industrialists, Anil Ambani of the Reliance Group, cast his vote alongside several slum dwellers.

Though Maharashtra is India's industrially most advanced state and contributes 38% of the country's taxes, it is neck-deep in debt and state finances are in a mess.

Correspondents say candidates have made populist promises of loan waivers, free power, jobs and subsidies to the voters, seemingly ignoring the perilous state of Maharashtra's finances.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Poverty and wealth are key voting issues



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