Police helped refugees from Orissa to reach their polling stations
TEXT COMMENTARY (all times Indian standard time, GMT+5.5)
By Joe Boyle
Millions of Indians have braved searing heat to cast their ballots on a day marred by deadly attacks from Maoist insurgents. We followed day one of the world's largest election with news, blogs, your comments, and insights from BBC correspondents.
OK, so plenty happened today to keep us all occupied. But for those of you who've caught India election fever, don't worry, there are four more days like this one. And then, of course, the small matter of totting up as many as 700 million votes - when we'll be running another live commentary just like this one.
1708The BBC's Omer Farooq in Hyderabad says:
Officially the polling time is over but long queues of voters are waiting for their turn, and the election authorities have decided to allow every voter who joined the queue before 4pm to vote. So many voters are gathered at the Malkajgiri Lok Sabha constituency that polling may have to continue till 7pm.
The purple mark on my finger is more than a symbol of democracy, it declares my freedom.
1708The BBC's Soutik Biswas in Delhi says:
As polling draws to an end, it appears that Indians, as usual, have exercised their right to vote as rousingly as ever.
Correspondents across the country have been reporting healthy turnouts as voters braved long treks to polling stations amid boiling heat and Maoist intimidation. In fact, parts of Kerala and Andhra Pradesh in the south appear to have recorded a turnout in excess of 65%, higher than the national turnout average in past elections. Even Jammu in the disputed Kashmir region seems to have recorded between 50% and 60% turnout. Experts will debate endlessly what this high turnout means and which party gains from it. But it definitely proves one thing: democracy in India is alive and kicking, perhaps more than anywhere else in the world.
Polls due to close in most constituencies.
1700The BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi says:
According to the Times of India website, Deepak Bhardwaj of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is the richest candidate contesting the parliamentary elections. Mr Bhardwaj filed his nomination papers from the West Delhi constituency on Thursday. He has declared his assets to be a whopping $120m. Mr Bhardwaj went to file his nomination paper on a tractor that he uses on his farmland. The 58-year-old tycoon owns businesses in real estate, hotels and education.
The Indian media says the Maoist attacks have overshadowed the first phase of the polls. Times Now has described the insurgents as "terrorising" the election.
1655The BBC's Amarnath Tewary in Bihar state says:
India's railway minister and RJD candidate Lalu Prasad Yadav stayed indoors all day but kept close track of the progress of today's poll. He's locked in a keen contest for the Saran constituency against BJP candidate Rajiv Pratap Rudy. He refused to talk to the media camped outside his house.
Maoists have surrounded poll officials who were returning from a booth with security guards in Chakai, in Jamui district, the BBC's Amarnath Tewary reports. Both sides appear to be firing on each other, but there are no reports of any casualties.
A regional party which held the balance of power in the last months of the Congress party-led government could again support a similar coalition, its leader has told the Reuters news agency. The Samajwadi Party is keeping its options open. Its leader Mulayam Singh Yadav said "there was no enmity with Congress". His party is powerful in India's most populous state - Uttar Pradesh - and could play a key role in deciding the outcome of the election.
1632The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Chattisgarh says:
We're in Dantewada now, a dusty town at the heart of the war with the Maoists. Twenty-five soldiers are guarding one polling booth, machine guns mounted on roof tops. Lines of women in rainbow-coloured saris are queuing to vote under the roasting Indian hot sun. We've heard that 17 policemen and election officials have died today in attacks by the Maoist guerrillas.
70%+ voting in my booth in Hyderabad, according to the presiding officer!
1627The BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi says:
Brisk voting has been taking place in 16 constituencies in the eastern part of northern Uttar Pradesh state, one of India's most backward and underdeveloped regions.
The state is the playground of the low-caste Dalit leader Mayawati who has had an astonishing rise to the height of political power in the state. Mayawati has now been openly talking about her ambition to be the prime minister of India. In the event the two main parties - the Congress and the BJP - fail to get the majority to form a government, Mayawati may well see herself catapulted into national politics in Delhi. Whether she will actually become the prime minister - that will depend on how many seats she gets in the end.
Indian media is reporting another Maoist attack - this time in Bastar in Chhattisgarh. The Times Now channel says the Maoists opened fire at a poll party returning from the elections. The channel says it's attack number 14 today.
1615The BBC's Karishma Vaswani in Maharashtra says:
Mumbai's markets closed down more than 3% - after soaring yesterday. Are investors worried about what the election results hold for the economy? Many said they too are concerned that a shaky coalition could put India's growth at risk. They're worried if regional political parties get a hefty share of the vote, foreign investors may find India increasingly unattractive as an investment destination.
US-based blogger Brijesh Nair has been providing
news and live updates
of election day in his native state of Kerala, the only state to vote in its entirety today.
1600The BBC's Prachi Pinglay in Maharashtra:
I'm on the way to Wardha, Nagpur. Officials say only 24-30% of people have been voting. There is much less enthusiasm this time. In previous elections people would stand around next to polling booths. You'd get old-aged people riding there on cycles and autos. But villagers say none of that is happening this time. Also, the mercury crossing 42C hasn't helped.
Angry voters who said they could not cast votes were chased away by police
1555The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Varanasi says:
Some reports have come in of stray violence - voters in one polling station were baton charged by police after protesting because their names were missing from the voter list. In another polling station in a rural area 800 voters refused to cast their vote because none of the candidates had visited them to ask for their vote. But the general consensus among the poll and police officials is that the poll has gone well.
The main political leaders have been conspicuously silent today. Perhaps mindful of the how close the vote could be (and fearful, perhaps, of flying slippers). We await their verdict on the day's events...
Madhu, blogging at Indian Election 2009
updated today about the LK Advani shoe-throwing incident
noting that this is not the first time footwear has been hurled in this election campaign: "The incident comes close on the heels of a journalist throwing a shoe at home minister P Chidambaram during a press conference in New Delhi."
Voting for the lone seat in the Andaman and Nicobar islands has been progressing peacefully. There are 265,000 voters spread out over the archipelago. A resident of the capital, Port Blair, Abhijeet Agarwal told the BBC a lot of educated, affluent families had come out to vote for the first time. He also mentioned it had been raining most of the day.
Congress is like termites in the woodwork of the house that is India. But the BJP is a fire in the living room. Make your choice.
Polls close in various insurgency-hit areas.
Five paramilitaries were killed in a landmine attack by Maoists in Jharkhand
1510The BBC's Chris Morris, in Delhi, says:
We shouldn't forget that this is only the first of five rounds of voting in this election - one day a week for the next five weeks. And it may well be that even after all the votes are counted no-one has a clear mandate to form a government. So round six - the horse-trading and alliance-building - could be the most difficult of all. It's a marathon not a sprint!
Story so far: Voting on this first day was always going to be a tumultuous affair, with officials staging the opening day in areas most hard-hit by Maoist insurgencies. The rebels have killed more than a dozen people so far. Meanwhile, the BJP leader has suffered a shoe-throwing embarrassment, and millions of voters continue to stream through the polling stations.
Dr MK Bajaj from Zirakpur, Punjab emails:
I will not be voting in the upcoming elections because there are no candidates that measure up to my expectations. With a few exceptions all the contestants are corrupt, inefficient and non-performers. I am not the only one holding this cynical view. There are a large number of people who think in a similar fashion and they will not take the trouble of going to the polling booth!
More of your comments
1500The BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi says:
It's been an action packed day for the Indian television channels who have had all their top anchors in the studio since the morning to report on the elections. An attempt was made to convey the colour and scale of the exercise in the first hour or two, but thereafter the recurring Maoist attacks overshadowed the media coverage. Newspaper websites are not as diverse in their coverage. Two have given the top spot to the appointment of a new lawyer for Mohammed Ajmal Amir Qasab - the lone surviving suspected gunman of the Mumbai attacks. The newspapers seem to be taking it somewhat easy, perhaps because the elections are going to be such a long drawn-out process?
Officials say only half as many people have turned out to vote in Orissa's Malkanagiri district as in the surrounding districts. Maoist rebels have attacked three polling booths in Malkanagiri.
I voted for the first time in my life, became a part of the largest democracy in the world :)
1425The BBC's Subir Bhaumik in Assam state says:
Opposition candidates have alleged large-scale
rigging and use of false voters by the ruling Congress. One politician said Congress had paid a rebel group to "create terror" to discourage voters from turning out. Congress described the claims as baseless.
1418The BBC's Amarnath Tewary in Bihar state says:
RJD candidate Siwan Heena Sahab, wife of convicted murderer and MP Mohd Shahabuddin, has cast her vote. She arrived wearing a Muslim veil and refused an official's request to reveal her face before voting.
Statesmen around the world: duck! Shoe-throwing is rocketing in popularity. The latest incident appears unique, though, as the shoe-thrower who targeted BJP leader Mr Advani was actually from his own party, according to Indian media.
Anandarup Kar has emailed and sent a picture of the polling from Hyderabad:
This is Moti Nagar, Borabanda Hyderabad. The atmosphere is pretty nice. People are voting peacefully. The polling booth is bang opposite to my house, I can see people coming in from the balcony..
More of your comments
A shoe has been thrown at BJP leader LK Advani at an election rally in Katni, Madhya Pradesh, according to Indian TV station Times Now. The shoe-thrower has been detained.
Varun Gandhi has been freed from jail. He was detained while campaigning in the state of Uttar Pradesh last month after allegedly making "highly derogatory" remarks against Muslims. He can now file his election nomination papers as a parliamentary candidate.
1313The BBC's Prachi Pinglay in Maharashtra says:
The polling booth in the village of Dorli has had only about 40 people come in since morning. People here say unless the women finish their day's cooking, they won't step out for voting.
1248The BBC's John Mary in Thiruvananthapuram says:
In a spirited turnout, voters formed long queues even before the start of polling. By 11am some 25% of voters exercised their franchise. Polling has been incident-free, barring a minor commotion over Congress candidate and former UN diplomat Shashi Tharoor and family addressing the media after casting their votes.
Among the statistics on offer is this, from the AFP news agency: there are more than six million security and civil personnel on election duty.
1235The BBC's Binoo Joshi in Jammu says:
Polling has been peaceful, by and large, according to the chief electoral officer. He said there had been minor clashes in three polling station in the mountainous Rajouri district, where the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force had to fire in the air to control the situation.
The voter turnout by noon is 20%, Indian TV reports.
Police battalions from Karnataka, TN [Tamil Nadu] and CRPF [Central Reserve Police Force] are in Kerala for indiavotes09 helping the local police. Now I know why polls are in phases.
Story so far: We're almost half-way through the day, and the vote is going along roughly as expected, with decent turnouts and plenty of stories focusing on scorching temperatures. Several attacks by Maoist insurgents remain the major cause for concern.
Maharashtra state is the latest to be hit by Maoist insurgents, with a police base in Gadchiroli coming under attack. There are no reports of casualties.
1209 The BBC's Subir Bhaumik in Guwahati says:
As six north-eastern state went to polls there have been reports of underage voters turning up at polling stations. In Nagaland - where there's only one parliamentary seat - a local journalist ran into school children who apparently had voter identity cards. Similar reports of people looking too young to vote at polling stations came from parts of Arunachal Pradesh. Polling officials there said they have not allowed those without a voters identity card.
The district of Latehar in Jharkhand appears to be bearing the brunt of the Maoist attacks. Indian TV channel Times Now reports that four polling officers have been kidnapped, adding to the six people killed earlier.
1140The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Chhattisgarh says:
We've been touring polling stations here in the Dantewada area in the south of Chhattisgarh. Right in front of me there are guards armed with assault rifles and grenades. Maoist rebels operate in a huge swathe of forest all around here and in the past few days there have been attacks on election officials. About 130 to 150 people have turned out to vote so far at the polling station where I am.
Another Maoist rebel attack, this time in the Jagdalpur area in Chhattisgarh. Indian TV reports that an election officer's vehicle was blown up in a landmine blast and at least five people are feared killed.
Bond from Varanasi emails:
My town is in the first phase so I woke early and went to my polling booth. Polling started at 7am and there was great tight security. No-one without ID cards was allowed near booths. I'll give a message to all Indians to go to their respective voting area and use their voting power.
More of your comments
1122The BBC's Karishma Vaswani in Maharashtra says:
the first phase of voting in this state is hundreds of miles away from its capital Mumbai - scene of an attack by gunmen last year which killed more than 170 people. But security is foremost in the minds of many of the voters, especially as the trial of Ajmal Amir Qasab, the sole surviving suspected gunman, is currently under way. India's politicians will have to convince Maharashtra's voters that they can clamp down on terrorism.
Niyukti from Bihar tweets:
Naxals [Maoists] seem well entrenched & better prepared to derail elections this time in Bihar, Jharkhand & Chhattisgarh.
1112The BBC's Prachi Pinglay in Maharashtra says:
I am on my way to a village called Dorli near Wardha.
This is an area that has seen many farmers kill themselves because of debt - a major issue for many people in this election. Polling got off to a slow start but more people are expected later.
Turnout update: voters seemed shy early on, with our correspondents counting them on the fingers of four hands. Now several districts are reporting more than 10% of voters have been and gone. Only a few tens of millions to go.
A high turnout is expected in most areas on the first day of voting
1106The BBC's Chris Morris, in Delhi, reflects on the day's events:
The Maoists are clearly making a big effort in several states to prevent people voting. They don't believe in parliamentary democracy. There are reports of polling booths being set ablaze in several remote districts, and there have been a number of gun battles. These are isolated incidents, but disruptive. Once the elections are over of course the rest of the country will forget about the Maoists again - which is probably exactly what they're counting on.
TV pictures from Siwan, Bihar, show long winding queues of voters including a large number of women, many of them in Islamic veils. In the last election Mohammad Shahabuddin of the Rashtriya Janata Dal party won a seat from his jail cell. In 2007 he was sentenced to life for kidnapping one of his rivals. His wife is the candidate this time round.
1052The BBC's Sanjaya Jena in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, says:
Police have started taking refugees housed in government relief camps to polling booths. Christians were forced to flee from their villages after a spate of ethnic and communal violence last year.
Jose, freshly-returned from a polling station in Andhra Pradesh has emailed to say:
I have just exercised my voting rights at Visakhapatnam Polling Station No 226. Here at Vizag, everything looks very serene and voters are casting their votes in a very disciplined manner. The usual rush is replaced by hush. Hustle and bustle is nowhere to be seen. Town buses and streets have a deserted look. Vizag is free from extremism, hardcore religious fundamentalism, communalism and vandalism.
More of your comments
More on the Maoist attacks in Gaya, Bihar: officials say two security personnel have been killed at a polling booth and two female voters received bullet wounds. The poll has been stopped at the booth and a massive search operation has started.
1025The BBC's Soutik Biswas in Delhi says:
Unlike Western democracies, the number of Indians voting has increased with every general election. And typically in Western democracies the turnout of voters decreases from national to local elections. In India, it is exactly the opposite: the turnout in national elections tends to be around 60%, in state elections it is around 70% and when it comes to village council elections it is anything upwards of 80%.
Mohan, Mumbai, says:
There is nothing to be proud of being the largest democracy in the world if time and again the elections are to be fought on issues such as caste, religion and the promise of providing electricity, water and food.
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State news channel
reports a "considerable amount of excitement" among voters in Sambalpur, Orissa. A large number of voters have turned up, including many women and young first-time voters. Even the high temperatures have not been a deterrent so far, the channel reports.
1000The BBC's Omer Farooq in Hyderabad says:
The Electronic Voting Machines are not working properly in many places and as a result polls opened 40 to 60 minutes late in those places.
Officials are urging people not to panic as there's plenty of time to vote. Film star Chiranjeevi of the Praja Rajyam party has taken a helicopter to come and vote. In the city's swanky Jubilee Hills area, many films actors and actresses have queued up to vote. This is the first time that the middle classes and the elite have come out in such large numbers to vote so the voting percentage is expected to be very high.
Initially reports suggested a slow start to voting around India
Another Maoist attack, this time in Gaya in Bihar. One guard shot dead, according to reports.
0934The BBC's Soutik Biswas in Delhi says:
The front pages of the main English newspapers are unusually subdued about the opening of the election. Only The Times Of India leads with the story with an emphatic headline saying: "They're Coming For Your Vote." There is a gaudy comic book illustration of the major political leaders, including Sonia Gandhi, riding horses and swinging lassoes, on the newspaper's masthead. Most other papers lead with the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Wednesday press conference where he did not rule out wooing his estranged Communist allies after the elections.
0924The BBC's Sanjaya Jena in Orissa state says:
Maoist rebels have attacked a booth in Aandrahal, Makanagiri district in eastern Orissa. They have burnt down an Electronic Voting Machine. Elsewhere in the district, the rebels have blocked roads with felled trees in several places.
There's been more trouble from Maoist insurgents. In Chhattisgarh they've attacked a polling centre in Gotaguner. And in Orissa they've set three polling booths on fire.
0911The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Varanasi:
The city has already recorded 9% voting in the first two hours. This is considered very high by election officials. Security and the issue of terrorism figure widely among voters here. A lot of Muslims say they are concerned their community is being unfairly targeted every time there is a major attack. It's an issue that I believe will influence the way they vote - and that in turn could affect the outcome.
Shashikiran Srinivasa, Bangalore, says:
I want to vote for a government that will be young and will have a futuristic view of the country and most importantly who gives importance to education and eradicating corruption.
More of your comments
0903The BBC's Chris Morris in Delhi says:
Just driven past the Indian parliament on my way to the office. Outside there were two dogs asleep under a chair, a street sweeper and a couple of bored-looking policemen. When you hold elections over five phases, polling day fever is not a nationwide phenomenon.
This election is one that takes pride in statistics. Unfeasible numbers of voters, polling stations etc. But here's a stat, reported by the
NDTV news channel,
that gives less cause for celebration: 16% of candidates contesting today's election have criminal cases pending against them.
Election officials have been preparing for the vote for months
0850The BBC's Amarnath Tewary in Bihar state says:
In view of the Maoist attack on a security camp in Rohtas on Tuesday night, polling for the first phase of 13 seats begins in Bihar amid tight security. There are long queues outside polling stations, with voters keen to avoid the sweltering temperatures later in day.
0840The BBC's Damian Grammaticas in Chhattisgarh says:
I'm right in the heart of India - at a tiny village in the south of Chhattisgarh. All around here are mango and tamarind trees. Voting has got off to a fairly slow start - 12 people have visited the polling station I'm at in the first hour. This is a tribal area and people have been warned by Maoist rebels that they will have their throats slit if they vote.
The story so far: Slow start to polling, trickles of early-morning voters turning out across the country. They'd better get their skates on if 150 million are to vote by the end of the day! Isolated trouble with Maoist insurgents in two provinces - six people are thought to have died in a bomb attack.
Balihar Sanghera, Boston, says:
A great day for the world's largest democracy! Hope political parties supporting the rural poor do well.
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0825The BBC's Binoo Joshi in Jammu says:
Polling began at 7am, but it's just a trickle of morning walkers who have been to polling centres to cast their votes in the city so far. In rural areas like Ranbirsinghpura, large numbers of voters have queued up. There are 200 polling centres near the border or the Line of Control (which divides the disputed territory of Kashmir between India and Pakistan) where alternate emergency polling stations have been created in case of any trouble. A senior army officer says everything so far is under control.
0820The BBC's Omer Farooq in the southern city of Hyderabad, says:
I am standing outside a private school in Secunderabad constituency and there are at least 200 voters in the queue already to cast their ballots. This is a middle-class constituency and the fight is between the Congress and the BJP. But there is a lot of confusion among the voters over which polling booth they have been allotted to cast their ballots. Usually political parties hand out slips to voters in the queue indicating their polling booth, but voters here say none of the parties have given them anything.
Asking my local polling booth in charge to separate the queue for senior citizens! Hope he agrees to it. Let's see!
More Maoist attacks - this time rebels fire at election officials in Mangnar and Maroki in Dantewada district, Chhattisgarh.
Tweeter Mohdabdurraafay uploaded this picture as proof he cast his vote
The trouble in Latehar looks to have taken a tragic turn, with six people reported killed by Maoist insurgents.
And the election begins in earnest. All the remaining polling stations are due to open, with 124 constituencies up for grabs.
Shashi Tharoor, the writer and former UN official, tells Indian TV he has just voted "for the first time in India" and says it is a great privilege. He's standing for the Congress party in Thiruvananthapuram.
0745The BBC's Sanjoy Majumder in Varanasi says:
The first few voters have started streaming into polling stations here, many of them set up in schools and colleges. Nearly 150 million people are eligible to vote in this round - and the poll is too close to call. The main opposition BJP is hoping to unseat the governing Congress party but both are facing a strong challenge from regional parties. It's the same story across India and the smaller parties could well hold the key to the next government.
Indian TV station
reports that Maoist rebels hurl a bomb at border guards in Latehar, Jharkhand.
hallucinations from Cochin, Kerala tweets:
India Election '09 begins 2day. Even though I can't find a suitable candidate, I'll be taking part with no hope that it'll bring any change!
Read hallucinations' tweets.
0720The BBC's Geeta Pandey says:
Kerala has traditionally registered a very high turnout, so that's what is expected this time too.
CNN-Ibn reports a trickle of voters turning up in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. Congratulations to the Keralites - the earliest confirmed voters.
Voting is due to start in dozens of constituencies affected by Maoist insurgencies - in parts of Jharkhand, Orissa, Bihar and Maharashtra. The bulk of polling stations will open at 0800.
The first polling stations open.
Welcome to our live coverage of the first phase of India's general election. We will be updating this page throughout the day, bringing you insights from BBC correspondents, some of your emails and Twitter comment, and the best of the blogs, TV and press.
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