Amaravati: An impressive turnout of over 73 per cent was recorded on Thursday in the single-phase Assembly and Lok Sabha elections in Andhra Pradesh amid stray violence involving the ruling TDP and YSRC cadres that reportedly left three people dead.
Incidents of EVM damage and stone pelting marked the high-octane polling that saw a large number out of the over 3.97 crore eligible voters turning up braving the scorching summer heat. Polling was held simultaneously for 175 Assembly seats featuring 2,118 candidates and 25 Lok Sabha seats having 319 contestants.
The fate of incumbent Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and main opposition YSR Congress chief Jaganmohan Reddy, son of late Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy, was sealed as the curtains came down on the first ever general elections after bifurcation of the State to create Telangana in 2014. Other contenders include Congress, BJP and Jana Sena of Pawan Kalyan, who tied up with BSP.
Official sources said clashes between TDP and YSRC workers were reported in Guntur, Anantapuramu, West Godavari, Prakasam, Kurnool and Kadapa districts, but did not specify deaths. The polling was not affected in any place, they said. Police also did not confirm the election-related killings. TDP and YSRC issued statements reporting the deaths of their party members accusing each other of being responsible for the violence.
While about 73 per cent of polling was reported by closing time at 6 pm, authorities expect the final figure likely to cross 80 per cent. The State recorded 76 per cent polling in 2014.
The ruling TDP raised a hue and cry over malfunctioning of electronic voting machines (EVMs) and blamed the Election Commission for failing to conduct the elections properly. Chandrababu Naidu went to the extent of claiming that 30 per cent of the EVMs encountered problems across the State, a charge EC denied. “All allegations against EC are completely motivated. There was nothing amiss with the electronic gadgets though about 0.3 per cent of
EVMs encountered technical glitches,” State Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Gopal Krishna Dwivedi said.
YSRC said one of its workers was attacked with sickles by TDP men and killed in Veerapuram village under Tadipatri constituency in Anantapuramu district, while another was done to death in Tamballapalle in Chittoor district.
TDP said its worker Sidda Bhaskar Reddy was killed by the opposition party in Veerapuram. Five other people were injured in the violent clash in Veerapuram.
Commenting on the violence, a top election official said: “The police prepared a preliminary report based on reports in the media. They are verifying the facts”. Assembly Speaker Kodela Sivaprasada Rao, who is seeking re-election from Sattenapalli constituency, claimed he was attacked by the rival YSRC workers.
TDP leaders made a beeline to the CEO’s office in the Secretariat here and lodged a series of complaints against YSRC. The Chief Minister released a video message denouncing YSRC’s atrocities and also the ‘malfunctioning’ of EVMs.
After 6 pm, he issued a statement expressing regret over the inconvenience caused to voters due to EVMs and thanking people for exercising their franchise. EC sources said in all 381 EVMs encountered technical problems, but the engineers either rectified the devices or replaced them, ensuring polling was not affected. CEO Dwivedi rejected claims that votes cast in certain EVMs for one party were getting polled for another. “These are plain rumours. Nothing of that sort happened anywhere,” he asserted.
Meanwhile, five EVMs were damaged by miscreants in different incidents. In Guntakal, former MLA and contesting candidate of Jana Sena Party, Madhusudan Gupta, smashed an EVM in a fit of rage alleging that party symbols were not properly printed on the ballot unit. He also shouted at the polling personnel on duty. Gupta was immediately taken into custody.
EVMs were also damaged in one polling station each in Kadapa, Anantapuramu, Guntur and Srikakulam districts. “In all these incidents, we registered cases against the culprits and took them into custody. Legal action will follow,” the CEO said. All the damaged EVMs were immediately replaced and polling continued, he added.
A mandal parishad member of YSRC was seriously injured when TDP workers allegedly attacked him at a polling station in Eluru city. At Jammalamadugu in Kadapa district, tension prevailed in Ponnathota village as YSRC and TDP workers indulged in stone-throwing. In Narsaraopet constituency of Guntur district, YSRC leaders alleged TDP men ransacked a polling station in Yelamanda village and damaged the furniture.
Chandrababu Naidu and his family exercised their franchise at a polling station in Undavalli village in State capital region Amaravati. Naidu referred to technical glitches in EVMs and said he was demanding that ballot papers be re-introduced. Chief Minister-aspirant Jaganmohan Reddy cast his vote in his native Pulivendula in Kadapa district, from where he is seeking re-election.
Meanwhile, crores of Indians voted to elect 91 parliamentarians in the first phase of over-a-month-long Lok Sabha polls. Election officials said voter turnout was high at most places, while complaints poured in from various States about glitches in EVMs and of names missing from voter lists.
The 91 Lok Sabha constituencies in the first phase, spread across 18 States and two union territories, have more than 14 crore voters — about one-sixth of the nearly 90 crore total electorate in India. Votes for all 543 seats would be counted on May 23 after end of the seven-phase polling on May 19. In the last general elections in 2014, more than 55 crore Indians voted (66.3 per cent) with BJP emerging victorious with little over 30 per cent votes.
In the first phase, BJP is looking to defend 32 seats, including those being fought by senior party leader Nitin Gadkari and five other Union Ministers, and also expand its tally in States dominated by regional players last time.
The main opposition party, Congress, is hoping to defend seven seats it won in 2014, besides eyeing gains in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.
Election officials put the voting percentage till early afternoon at 40-50 per cent in most States. Congress president Rahul Gandhi said in Rae Bareli, after his mother Sonia Gandhi filed nomination papers, that the election results would prove that Modi is “not invincible”.
The Prime Minister, at an election rally in Bihar, said the opposition parties were scared that if he comes back to power, their “shops” of corruption and dynasty politics will shut down.
In Maharashtra naxals triggered an IED blast near a polling booth in Gadchroli district while voting was under way. There were no casualties, officials said. In Chhattisgarh’s Bastar, security was tightened following a naxal attack in the constituency’s Dantewada area on Tuesday. A BJP leader and four security personnel were killed.