India's newest state votes for the first time

AP News
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Posted: Apr 30, 2014 5:52 AM
India's newest state votes for the first time

HYDERABAD, India (AP) — Millions of people in nine states across India, including the newest state of Telangana, voted Wednesday in the latest phase of the country's massive general election.

With 814 million eligible voters in India, the election is being held in phases over six weeks. Voters are choosing the 543 members of the lower house of Parliament, with results expected on May 16.

The voters Wednesday included Narendra Modi, the prime ministerial hopeful from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. Modi, the chief minister of western Gujarat state, sparked a controversy by taking a photo of his inked finger while holding a small lotus flower, his party's symbol, as he emerged from casting his vote. Angry supporters of the ruling Congress party complained to election authorities that Modi had flouted election laws by canvassing for votes in violation of rules forbidding campaigning on election day.

The two national parties are locked in a tense battle for control of the next national government, with Congress facing a possible drubbing due to corruption scandals and a recent economic slowdown.

On Wednesday, the seventh phase of the election, nearly 140 million people were eligible to vote for 89 seats in Parliament, including all 26 for Gujarat. Elections were also being held in northern Punjab state and in the eastern states of Bihar and West Bengal.

Fourteen constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, were also voting, including Rae Bareli, where Congress party President Sonia Gandhi is running.

Security was tight in Uttar Pradesh, with tens of thousands of paramilitary troops and police deployed across the state. In elections last week, supporters of political parties took over 11 polling stations in Rampur constituency, said Umesh Sinha, the state's chief electoral officer. A new election was ordered and took place Tuesday.

Sinha said police were given shoot-on-sight orders to prevent any outbreak of violence or any attempt to disrupt Wednesday's voting.

In Telangana, around 28 million people were expected to vote for 17 seats in Parliament and 119 seats in the state assembly.

Telangana, India's 29th state, was carved out of Andhra Pradesh state in February after nearly six decades of street protests and strikes.

Telangana supporters say statehood will bring more money to their underdeveloped area. But the move to create Telangana was opposed by the rest of Andhra Pradesh, which will eventually lose its capital city of Hyderabad to the new state.

Opinion polls have given Modi an edge in the election and indicate that the BJP could form India's next government.

Modi's critics say his image has been tainted by sectarian violence that ripped through Gujarat in 2002, killing nearly 1,000 Muslims. Modi, who has been chief minister of the state since 2001, is widely seen as having done little to stop the carnage.

Modi denies playing a role in the riots, and has never apologized or expressed remorse for them. In December, under pressure to speak about the violence, which has become a focal point of his candidacy, Modi spoke of his "anguish" over the bloodshed. The carefully worded statement appeared designed to convey that he had nothing to apologize for.