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May 07, 2009 at 10:01pm IST

57 pc voter turnout in phase four elections

New Delhi: Poll violence was reported in West Bengal and Rajasthan on Thursday as nearly 54 million voters exercised their franchise in eight states in the fourth and penultimate round of parliamentary elections, with major parties exploring post-poll equations in the face of what is widely expected to be a splintered verdict.

The 10-hour exercise involving 1,315 candidates in 85 constituencies in eight states took the number of Lok Sabha seats that have held balloting since April 16 to 457. The remaining 86 seats will see polling May 13, and the votes will be counted nationwide May 16.

Deputy Election Commissioner R Balakrishnan put the total polling at 57 percent of the 94.6 million voters.

THEIR TURN: A woman holds a child outside a polling booth in Samsadbad village of Nandigram.

The was in violence in Left Front-ruled West Bengal where bomb attacks killed a voter each in Asansol and Murshidabad districts. A man wounded in a bomb blast Wednesday succumbed to his injuries. Three policemen were injured in one of the incidents.

West Bengal was also the state that saw the highest voter turnout of 75 percent with Bihar being the state with the lowest voting percentage of 37.

Rajasthan also saw violence. One man was also killed when the police opened fire at a mob that tried to a polling booth in Sawai Madhopur district in the state, where the Congress and BJP are locked in a fierce contest for its 25 Lok Sabha seats.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam were among those who voted early in the day in the national capital voters.

The day's high-profile candidates included External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee (Congress) and former chief ministers Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party), Rajnath Singh (BJP), Lalu Prasad (Rashtriya Janata Dal) and Farooq Abdullah (National Conference).

Even as the election was under way, political parties, which no longer shy away from admitting that they expect a splintered verdict, were now looking at new allies to get into a winning combination.

The Congress was most proactive throughout the day, with general secretary M. Veerappa Moily dispelling notions that the party's ties with its pre-poll allies had shattered.

"The Congress-UPA (United Progressive Alliance) partnership is very firm, very concrete. Our priority is to firm up our partners," he said. Moily said there was no way the BJP would gain more Lok Sabha seats and that the Congress would be "the strongest party" in the Lok Sabha.

He underlined that the Congress valued its relationship with RJD leader Lalu Prasad and Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief Ram Vilas Paswan - despite contesting against them in Bihar.

Congress leader Satyavrat Chaturvedi was more cautious, saying this election would see a close fight between the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the UPA.

He said the Congress’ tally would be over 170 seats--about 100 short of the majority needed to form a government--and it hoped to earn support from smaller parties to take power. "No single party will be in a position to form a government on its own. It will be a coalition government."

BJP president Rajnath Singh claimed on the other hand that the NDA would win the election but did not say that his party would get the mandate on its own. BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar added that his party was talking to "new allies".

Any formation taking power in New Delhi would need the support of at least 272 members in the 545-seat Lok Sabha. The Congress and BJP hope to be the largest group so as to get invited first to form a government.

Even as Moily sought to mollify the estranged Left, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat reiterated that his party would never again prop up a Congress-led regime.

The Marxists are determined to put in place a non-Congress, a non-BJP government -- a grouping of regional and Left parties.

If polling was heavy in West Bengal, where the Congress and Trinamool Congress are pitted against the ruling Left, it was brisk to moderate in Punjab (65 percent), Haryana (63 percent), Rajasthan (50 percent), Uttar Pradesh (50 percent) and Delhi (50 percent).

Only a quarter of the 1.1 million electorate voted in Srinagar, the urban hub of the separatist campaign in Jammu and Kashmir. Separatist groups had called for a boycott of the election.

Rajasthan (25 seats), Delhi (seven) and Haryana (10) saw polling in entire states. In Bihar, the last three of its 40 Lok Sabha constituencies saw voting along with four in Punjab, 18 in Uttar Pradesh and 17 seats in West Bengal.

With indications that the Congress and the BJP would have to rely on regional chieftains to claim power, Mulayam Singh said the Samajwadi Party would offer its support to any party in New Delhi that sacked the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government of Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh -- his political turf. Both the Congress and BJP turned down the demand.

To add to the confusion, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit reiterated that the Congress could do business with Bihar's ruling Janata Dal-United (JD-U), a BJP ally, post elections. But Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said there was no question of siding with the Congress.

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