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Saturday, September 11, 1999 Published at 18:24 GMT 19:24 UK

World: South Asia

Smooth second day of polling in India

Officials wait for voters in a polling station in Rajasthan

By South Asia correspondent Mike Wooldridge

Voting is over after the second round of polling in India's general election.

The election commissioners reported a preliminary turnout of just over 56% and described the day as practically incident-free.

The voting did, however, take place against a background of several bomb explosions and exchanges of fire on the borders with Pakistan in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

There was brisk voting in the Hindu majority areas of constituencies in the state which went to the polls in this second round.

This was despite several exchanges of firing between Indian and Pakistani troops in the border areas, and other instances of gunfire and explosions which the police put down to separatist militants trying to disrupt the election.

Indian Elections 99
Full results
But there was low polling reported in hilly and Muslim dominated areas and some booths saw not a single vote cast.

As was the case last weekend in the Srinagar constituency of the Kashmir Valley, which has been the heartland of the past 10 years of conflict between separatist groups and the security forces, separatists had called for a boycott of the polls.

Challenges yet to come

Two states, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, produced a turnout estimated at 65%.

In Maharashtra, the state with the largest electorate this time, about half the voters turned out.

[ image: A 90-year-old woman is carried to a polling station near Madras]
A 90-year-old woman is carried to a polling station near Madras
It is a key state, particularly for the damage that is likely to be done to Sonia Gandhi's Congress party because of the rebellion against her leadership that was led by the Maharashtra political strongman, Sharad Pawar.

A municipal councillor died after being attacked in Maharashtra a few hours ahead of this round of polling.

But if the election commission is generally satisfied with the conduct of the election so far, it also acknowledges that its greatest challenges could well be to come.

There are three rounds of polling to go and polling has yet to start in some of the most notoriously volatile places.

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