Mammoth Uttar Pradesh election ends – most peacefully

By Sharat Pradhan


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Lucknow : India's most staggered election ended in Uttar Pradesh Tuesday in peace with 50 million people voting in all to pick a new government in the country's most populous and politically most crucial state.

The Election Commission earned kudos from voters and politicians alike as the final and seventh phase of the gigantic exercise that began April 7 ended at 5 p.m. – for the first time in decades without any trouble.

"We are immensely satisfied that the voting has ended," a beaming state chief election officer A.K. Bishnoi told IANS. "We are really happy we conducted this mega exercise without any disturbance, without any violence.

"Except for complaints of missing names from lists of voters which we are looking into, everything went off smoothly," he said. "There was no violence, no rigging."

Because of its sheer significance, the Uttar Pradesh ballot, whose outcome will be known Friday, drew the Who's Who of Indian politics for campaigning including those who were not directly contesting the battle.

They included Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati as well as Chief Ministers Mulayam Singh Yadav (Uttar Pradesh), J. Jayalalitha (Tamil Nadu) and Om Prakash Chautala (Haryana), besides former chief minister N. Chandrababu Naidu (Andhra Pradesh).

On Tuesday, when the final 59 constituencies went to the polls in Uttar Pradesh's eastern districts bordering Bihar and Nepal, 46 percent of around 17.8 million voters exercised their franchise despite searing heat.

Officials said the overall percentage for the entire election was 44 percent of Uttar Pradesh's 114 million voters – or 50.16 million.

The mammoth task involved 6,070 candidates in 402 of Uttar Pradesh assembly's 403 seats (election in one place was cancelled), 450,000 officials, 350,000 security personnel including 67,000 from paramilitary units, 24,000 heavy and 10,000 light vehicles as well as 120,000 electronic voting machines.

Officials said the entire election cost the exchequer Rs.125 crores.

Votes will be taken up for counting Friday, and most pundits have predicted a hung assembly with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) expected to finish on top.

As many as 934 contestants were in the fray Tuesday across the nine districts of Faizabad, Ambedkar Nagar, Gorakhpur, Maharajganj, Kushinagar, Deoria, Mau, Azamgarh and Ballia.

In the Hindu holy town of Ayodhya, holy men dressed in saffron were among the thousands who queued up at the balloting centres – eager to give their stamp of approval to the new government.

Gyan Das, who heads Hanuman Garhi, the best-known Hanuman temple in the riverside town, praised the Election Commission in remarks that were echoed all over the state.

"I must appreciate an excellent job done by the Election Commission," he told reporters in Ayodhya, 700 km east of New Delhi. "There has been no wrongdoing of any sort."

The highest turnout Tuesday was recorded at Gauri Bazar and Maharajganj and the lowest at Ghosi.

According to a study by Election Watch, an NGO headed by former state director general of police I.C. Dwivedi, 162 of the 934 contestants in this round had criminal charges against them.

Of these, 87 belonged to major political parties.

The ruling Samajwadi Party topped the list with 32 tainted candidates, followed by 19 of the BJP-Apna Dal combine, BSP's 20 and Congress party's 16.

The round is very crucial for the ruling Samajwadi Party that had led the tally in the 2002 election by bagging 21 of these 59 seats.