Staggered polling began on Thursday for the first phase of elections across 15 states and two Union Territories to elect a new Lok Sabha as also legislative assemblies in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa amid tight security.Voting began at 0700 hrs in 124 constituencies 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.
Public canvassing for votes was prohibited 38 hours before the start of polling, but political and civil society activists continued to exhort voters to exercise their franchise.
Over 14.31 crore voters are eligible to cast their votes on Thursday across 1.85 lakh polling stations set up by the Election Commission and secured by tens of thousands of police personnel.
While all 20 seats in Kerala , 11 in Chhattisgarh and two in Meghalaya are going to polls in a single phase on Thursday, polling would be held in 13 out of 40 seats in Bihar, 16 out of 80 in Uttar Pradesh [Images], Maharashtra 13 (48), Andhra Pradesh 22 (42), Jharkhand 6 (14), Orissa 10 (21), Assam 3 (14), Arunachal Pradesh 2 (2), Manipur 1 (2) and Jammu and Kashmir 1 (6).
Polling is also underway to 154 assembly segments in Andhra and 70 in Orissa.
As many as 1,715 candidates, including 122 women, are in the fray in the first phase with the prominent names being Rashtriya Janata Dal’s Lalu Prasad Yadav, Murli Manohar Joshi of Bharatiya Janata Party and Telangana Rashtra Samiti chief K Chandrasekhar Rao.
The fate of Congress’ Renuka Chowdhury, Shashi Tharoor, D Purandeswari, south Indian actress Vijayasanthi and BJP leader B Dattatreya will also be decided on Thursday.
As has become customary, voters in the world’s largest democracy will poll their ballots in Electronic Voting Machines.
Elections to all the 543 constituencies would be completed on May 13 and counting will take place on May 16.
The lone seats in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Mizoram and Nagaland are also to be covered in the first phase.
The official spending on the general elections involving thousands of candidates and millions of voters (714 million registered electorate) is pegged at Rs 1,300 crore, but think-tank Centre for Media Studies expects the combined spending by government and candidates to exceed Rs 10,000 crore ($2 billion).