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Moderate start to first phase of polling

Last updated on: April 16, 2009 09:34 IST

Polling in the first phase of elections to Lok Sabha began on a moderate note on Thursday during which the fate of Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad, BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi and Yashwant Sinha and TRS president K Chandrasekar Rao will be decided.

Voting began on Thursday morning in 124 constituencies spread across 15 states and two union territories in the first round of the five-phase elections and would end at 1700 hrs in most places, except in naxal-infested areas where it would close at 1500 hrs.

Over 14.31 crore voters are eligible to cast their ballot on Thursday across 1.85 lakh polling stations set up by the Election Commission and secured by tens of thousands of police personnel.

Elections to 154 assembly segments in Andhra Pradesh and 70 in Orissa are also being held on Thursday.

While all 20 seats in Kerala, 11 in Chhattisgarh and two each in Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya are going to polls in a single phase on Thursday, polling is being held in 13 out of 40 seats in Bihar, 16 out of 80 in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra 13 (48), Andhra Pradesh 22 (42), Jharkhand 6 (14), Orissa 10 (21), Assam 3 (14), Manipur 1 (2) and Jammu and Kashmir 1 (6).

The lone seats in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Mizoram and Nagaland are also covered in the first phase.

Prominent among those seeking elections to the lower house of Parliament are Union Ministers Praful Patel, Renuka Chowdhury, D Purandeswari, Santosh Mohan Dev, Meira Kumar, Rameshwar Oraon and E Ahamed and BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy, former UN Under-Secretary General Shashi Tharoor and south Indian actress Vijaya Shanti.

As many as 1,715 candidates, including 122 women, are in the fray in the first phase. As has become customary, voters would be exercising their franchise through Electronic Voting Machines.

Tight security arrangements have been made for the polls with central paramilitary forces being deployed along with the security forces of the states.

State borders have been sealed to prevent movement of criminal elements and liquor.

Other phases of Lok Sabha polls are due on April 23, 30 and May seven and 13.

The campaigning was mostly peaceful but verbally violent with politicians making personal attacks.

The highlight remains Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's retort to the repeated attacks by his BJP rival L K Advani, who had called him the "weakest", and Varun Gandhi's alleged hate-speech in the Lok Sabha constituency of Pilibhit. Varun has since given an undertaking to the Supreme Court that he would not make any speeches that incite communal passions.

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