Millions of Indian cast vote in third phase

MUMBAI: Millions cast their votes in the third wave of India’s month-long elections today, with security tight as the staggered polls took place in Kashmir Valley and financial capital Mumbai. Nearly 145 million people were eligible to vote in phrase three of the five-stage election which is widely expected to result in a shaky coalition government that will have to steer the country through an economic slump.

The third round saw India’s two main parties, the ruling Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), go head to head in a number of key states which will have a major bearing on the national outcome. In Kashmir, all eyes were on the number of voters.

“I am voting for development. Separatists need to de-link elections from the struggle for freedom,” said Kashmir businessman Iqbal Dar, 49.

There were many more voters out in Mumbai, where Islamist militant attacks in November killed 166 people.

“Security is the only issue. It’s the only reason people are stepping out to vote, especially in this area. We have seen it, we have felt it and we know all about it,” said Chintan Sakariya, after voting in south Mumbai.Sakariya, 29, cast his ballot a stone’s throw from the Nariman House complex of the the ultra-orthodox Jewish Chabad-Lubovitch movement which was stormed by the Islamist gunmen. The jeweller was trapped with his wife and family in their third-floor flat opposite, unable to leave as the gunmen fired and threw grenades at anyone they saw. His friend’s parents were killed as they tried to flee.

But national security is not a priority issue everywhere, with the bulk of India’s 714 million voters likely to cast their ballots on local issues.

Among other states voting today were parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka and West Bengal.

The month-long ballot — the world’s largest democratic exercise — wraps up on May 13, with the final results expected three days later.

With a lot of support going to local and regional parties, there is no chance of either the incumbent Congress-led alliance or the bloc led by the BJP securing an absolute majority.

Who actually ends up governing India’s 1.1 billion people will be decided in what observers are calling the election’s “sixth phase” — a period of intense political horse-trading that will follow the expected fractured result.