New Delhi: As the proverbial Indian summer gathered force, millions of people across 12 Indian states voted on Thursday in step two of Election 2009 in an exercise that was largely peaceful barring insurgent violence in Assam and Jharkhand and political clashes in Andhra Pradesh.
Polling stations in 140 constituencies across 12 states opened at 0700 hours IST for the second round of the five-phase elections that conclude on May 13. Tens of thousands of the 194 million electorate queued up at many of the 2,22,350 polling stations to choose their nominees in the Lok Sabha from amongst the 2,034 candidates in the fray.
The states which went to polls are Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Goa, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tripura, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.
MAKING A MARK: A polling official marks the finger of a voter with indelible ink before she casts her vote in Ayodhya. (IBN)
Voting was also underway for the last of the two-phase Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa.
While there was relative calm elsewhere, Jharkhand, which saw nine people killed in Maoist violence on April 16 in the first phase, was subjected to more terror.
The Maoists, who have called for a poll boycott, triggered landmine blasts near polling booths, attacked a paramilitary camp and blew up a railway station injuring several people. There were intermittent gunbattles with security forces that continued for hours.
Even so, there was moderate polling reported from eight of the state's 14 Lok Sabha constituencies with a turnout in the first four hours between 18 and 26 per cent.
People were queuing up at polling stations even as the temperature around noon was recorded between 42 degree and 46 degrees Celsius in various parts.
In Assam, which reported moderate to brisk polling, a soldier was killed and two wounded in an ambush by tribal separatists in North Cachar Hills district while polling.
There was trouble in Andhra Pradesh, too, with activists of the ruling Congress, Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and superstar Chiranjeevi's Praja Rajyam Party clashing at several places.
Despite the trouble, an estimated 25-30 per cent votes were polled in the first four hours while long queues of voters, especially women, formed in many areas.
The turnout was a little lower in Madhya Pradesh, at about 20 per cent till 1100 hours IST, where polling was being held for 13 of 29 seats.
In Uttar Pradesh, where elections were held in 17 of 80 constituencies, about 26 per cent of 25 million-odd eligible voters cast their ballot till 0200 hours IST. And in Maharashtra, where elections are being held in 25 of the 48 seats, it was a trifle lower at 25 per cent.
In Karnataka, 30 per cent voting was reporting from the 17 parliamentary constituencies.
Voting was also underway peacefully in otherwise volatile Bihar, where polling was underway for 13 of the 40 constituencies.
As electioneering proceeded in fits and starts through the hot day, so did the politics.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who cast his vote in Guwahati, was confident of victory.
"The Congress in Assam will win a thumping majority and there will be a Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government at the centre," Manmohan Singh told journalists soon after casting his vote.
The Prime Minister got a vote of confidence from ally Ram Vilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP), who said in his Bihar constituency Hajipur, "The only name in our mind for the prime ministerial candidate is Manmohan Singh. In fact, the RJD (of Lalu Prasad) and LJP combine consider only his name for the PM's post."
The remark of the LJP chief, who has tied up with the RJD for the elections in Bihar leaving the Congress to go it alone, came after the relationship with the Congress came under considerable strain following Lalu Prasad's assertion that the UPA's prime ministerial candidate would be decided only after the elections.
However, another key ally of the UPA, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar said the grouping would pick its prime minister only after the Lok Sabha election results are known.
"Election and selection of the leader will be done collectively by the UPA," Pawar said in reply to a question whether Manmohan Singh will be the prime minister.
Also under discussion was a possible post poll scenario and the role of the Left, which gave crucial backing to the outgoing Congress-led UPA government until July last year.
Paswan said he wanted the Left to join the "secular parties". "We have not opposed the Left... We want the Left to come with the secular parties."
Echoing him in wooing the Left, Lalu Prasad said in Patna, "Secular forces should be united to form the government." He was confident that if the UPA fell short of a majority in the 545-seat Lok Sabha, "we have kept open a window for the Left".
Pawar spoke on similar lines, saying he did not consider the Left parties untouchables and was open to doing business with the Left again.
However, General Secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) Prakash Karat insisted that his party would not help the Congress to get back to power, come what may.