India votes in fifth round of staggered elections

Millions of Indians exercised their franchise to elect 51 lawmakers from across seven states.

    The last phase of voting will be held on May 19 and results will be declared by May 23 [Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]
    The last phase of voting will be held on May 19 and results will be declared by May 23 [Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

    Indians have voted in the fifth phase of the country's marathon elections including in two constituencies in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh where opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi hope to retain their seats.

    The Election Commission said on Monday 63.5 percent of the 87 million eligible voters cast their ballots across 51 constituencies in seven states.

    In Indian-administered Kashmir, which has faced decades-long armed rebellion, rebels threw a grenade and a petrol bomb at polling stations in Pulwama, where 40 Indian security forces were killed in a suicide attack in February.

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    Protesters threw stones at polling stations damaging at least 23 buses carrying polling staff, police told Reuters news agency.

    At least one person was shot and wounded when police opened fire, police said.

    The Muslim-majority region has seen low voting in the previous phases amid boycott calls by Kashmiri separatists.

    Heightened security arrangements have been made for the polling in the two volatile districts of Pulwama and Shopian. By late afternoon, the two districts witnessed less than two percent polling.

    "We will not vote, that is our silent protest. We have buried so many young men in the past three years in these villages, you will only find graveyards here. How can we forget their sacrifice?" Manzoor Ahmad, a resident of Lelhar village in Pulwama, told Al Jazeera.

    A 23-year-old student, who did not want to be named, said: "We have seen a lot of bloodshed. We do not have a single reason to vote."

    Voting also was held in the remote mountainous Ladakh region, which has India's highest polling station at an altitude of 4,570 metres. Another high-altitude polling station was set up for only 12 voters in the cold desert region.

    Referendum on Modi

    People in Uttar Pradesh, where more than 25 million people were registered to cast ballots for 14 members of India's parliament, voted amid scorching heat.

    Rahul is seeking re-election for a fourth consecutive term in Amethi. He is the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi whose widow, Sonia, is running from neighbouring Rae Bareli.

    Both constituencies are considered Congress party bastions.

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    India's multi-phase elections are seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which controls Uttar Pradesh.

    The seven-phase elections began on April 11. The last votes will be cast on May 19 and results will be declared on May 23.

    Modi campaigned on his national security record, particularly on his tough stand against rival Pakistan, following the suicide bomb attack by a Pakistan-based group in Kashmir's Pulwama.

    Uttar Pradesh is also where Hindu nationalist groups have aggressively pushed for the building of a temple on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque, in the city of Ayodhya, which has become a flashpoint in tension with minority Muslims.

    Additional reporting by Rifat Fareed from Pulwama

     

    SOURCE: News agencies