MUMBAI: Over a quarter of Maharashtra's 8.35 crore voters exercised their franchise by Wednesday afternoon in assembly elections that has pitted the BJP against virtually everyone else.
The voting percentage until 1 p.m. in certain constituencies was as low as 20 percent but exceeded 45 percent in some.
Along with balloting for the 288-seat Maharashtra assembly, voting also took place for the Lok Sabha by-election in Beed. The seat fell vacant following the death of union minister Gopinath Munde in June.
A Third of Haryana Votes
With enthusiastic voters forming long queues at polling stations across Haryana, balloting was in full swing for 90 assembly seats Wednesday. About 40 percent polling was reported from Haryana till 1 p.m.
In 10 out of Haryana's 21 districts, the voter turnout crossed 40 percent till 1 p.m. These included Kurukshetra, Yamunanagar, Mewat, Fatehabad, Kaithal, Jind, Sirsa and Palwal. In the remaining districts, the voting percentage was between 31 and 40 percent.
Kurukshetra district led with over 51 percent voting.
Heavy ballotting was reported from majority of the booths. Voters patiently stood outside rural polling stations in most areas. At many urban polling booths also, brisk voting was reported.
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The main contenders for power are the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose campaign was spearheaded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, its estranged ally Shiv Sena, the Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) as well as the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
The battle has become a matter of prestige particularly for the Shiv Sena, which has gone on a verbal offensive against the BJP for breaking a quarter-century-long Sena-BJP alliance ahead of the election.
Other parties have also attacked the BJP more than any other party.
Among those who voted in Mumbai were celebrities, including industrialists and Bollywood and television stars. The polling began at 7 a.m. and is set to end at 6 p.m.
Security was tight at the 91,376 polling stations across the state, including more than 9,900 classified as "hyper sensitive" and 62 "sensitive" centres -- official euphemism to mean they could witness violence.
Polling was suspended for some time in two constituencies in Nagpur, one each in Nashik and Mumbai following technical glitches in the electronic voting machines.
In parts of Nagpur and Amravati, voting was affected following sudden thunderstorms accompanied by heavy rains.
In four polling stations in northwest Mumbai, voters complained of excessive heat and lack of ventilation after which the election officer arranged for fans for the long queues of voters.
In many places, people began queuing up since early Wednesday.
Among the early voters were former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar in Baramati, BJP leader Vinod Tawde in Mumbai and Pankaja Munde, daughter of the late Gopinath Munde, in Beed.
A total of 4,119 candidates are in the fray. These include 276 women.
On Wednesday, the Shiv Sena asserted that it was the prime contender for power in Maharashtra.
In full front page advertisement in the party organs Saamana and Dopaharka Saamana, the party proclaimed: "Dhanushyabaan Ki Tankaar Hai, Aani Ab Apni Sarkar Hai!"
Dhanushyabaan or bow and arrow is the Shiv Sena's election symbol.
In other big advertisements released in the Mumbai media, it virtually termed the rival parties as demon king Ravana.
"Ravana was not killed by a 'hand' (Congress symbol), a 'clock' (NCP) or a 'flower' (BJP's lotus). He was taken down by a bow and arrow," the advertisements said.
"Take down the evils of corruption, load-shedding, policy paralysis, bad governance by voting for the bow and arrow," it exhorted voters.
"Go vote" and "Get inked" is the mantra Bollywood stars like Salman Khan and Abhishek Bachchan spread among their fans via Twitter as they voted.
Said model Milind Soman: "Get out and vote! Be proud to be part of the largest democracy in the world, to keep it healthy is in our hands."
Said actress Pooja Bedi after voting: "I urge ALL of u in Maharashtra and Haryana to vote. Your vote is your right... And it DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE! Those who don't vote dont have the right to complain about the way the system functions."