Lucknow : Notwithstanding the relative cool of the morning, polling was slow in the first few hours Thursday in the sixth and penultimate round of Uttar Pradesh’s staggered elections.
The turnout in the first two hours — since 7 a.m. — was only about 6 percent in the 52 constituencies spread across the nine districts of Varanasi, Allahabad, Ghazipur, Jaunpur, Sant Ravidas Nagar, Mirzapur, Chandauli, Sonbhadra and Kaushambhi.
Officials were optimistic that the voter turnout would improve as the day progressed.
“Perhaps, people are busy with their morning chores. I am sure the polling will gain pace in the day,” said senior Election Commission official Atig Ahmad.
An estimated 16.3 million voters can choose from 738 contestants in the fray. There are 15,428 polling centers and 17,800 electronic voting machines have been installed for the jumbo exercise.
Principal Home Secretary K. Chandramauli added: “Polling is going on smoothly. No untoward incident has been reported from any area.”
The presence of Maoists in about 680 villages across three districts of Chandauli, Sonbhadra and Mirzapur, which border Bihar, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh, have added to the tenuous security situation.
“While we have really intensified security deployments in these vulnerable areas, we have also kept a Border Security Force (BSF) helicopter in readiness at Varanasi along with commandos to tackle any emergency,” Chandramauli told IANS.
A large number of candidates face criminal cases.
According to a study by Election Watch, a social voluntary organisation headed by retired director general of police I.C. Dwivedi, 138 of the 785 candidates in the fray are embroiled in criminal cases.
The top 10 in the list of the infamous are Sushil Kumar of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with 25 criminal cases, Chotelal Vishwakarma of Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) (24), Suheldeo of BSP (17), Rajesh Yadav – Independent (15), Dinesh Pal of RLD (11), Vijay Kumar of Samajwadi Party (11), Khalid Azim alias Ashraf also of Samajwadi Party (8), Shashikant Rajbhar of BJP (6), Gulab Chand of Congress (6) and Arjun, also belonging to the Congress, with six cases.
Mafia don Mukhtar Ansari, who has once been a TADA convict, is also contesting from Mohammadabad in Ghazipur as an independent backed by the Samajwadi Party.
Uttar Pradesh, which began its election process April 7, has 403 constituencies – the remaining 59 go to polls in the last phase May 8.
Voting Thursday is also taking place for two Lok Sabha by-elections in Robertsganj and Mirzapur.
This is a crucial test for several ministers in the Mulayam Singh Yadav government. Other prominent candidates Thursday are BJP state chief Kesri Nath Tripathi, All India Mahila Congress president Reeta Bahuguna Joshi and Apna Dal president Sone Lal Patel.