New Delhi: New Delhi: High voter enthusiasm today marked the sixth phase of polling covering 117 constituencies spread across 12 states as the race to the Lok Sabha crossed the half-way mark with stakes high for Congress and BJP.
Barring the killing of a policeman in Assam's Kokrajhar district in BSF firing to ward off mobs trying to capture a booth and a suspected Maoist attack on a poll team in Jharkhand, the polling today was peaceful.
The turnout today in all the 11 states and 1 union territory, including Mumbai, was higher than the previous Lok Sabha elections in 2009, in sync with the trend witnessed in the five earlier phases this time.
While the highest turnout of 83 per cent was recorded in the lone seat of Puducherry followed by West Bengal (82 per cent for six seats) and 73 per cent for all the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu which saw singled-phased polling today.
Only two states—Rajasthan (59.2 per cent for five seats) and Maharashtra (55.33 per cent for 19 seats)--registered below 60% turnout.
Jammu and Kashmir's Anantnag constituency, where PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti in in fray, recorded the lowest turnout of 28 percent today but it was still higher than the 26.9 per cent recorded five years ago.
About 18 crore voters were eligible in the sixth phase to exercise their franchise to decide the electoral fate of nearly 2100 candidates including political heavyweights like External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid (Congress) who is in fray from Farrukhabad constituency in Uttar Pradesh state, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav contesting from Mainpuri also in UP, leader of the Opposition in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj (BJP) in Vidisha in Madhya Pradesh, her party colleague Shahnawaz Hussain in Bhagalpur in Bihar and President Pranab Mukherjee's son Abhijit in Jangipur in West Bengal.
After today's polling, the voting in 347, or close to two third, of the total of 543 Lok Sabha seats are over with 216 seats left in the remaining three of the total of nine phases of the elections.
Today's was the second biggest phase of the staggered elections after the fourth phase held on April 17 covered 121 seats. BJP and Congress are squared off in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh states but the politically most important part of today's polling was the 39 seats in Tamil Nadu where BJP and a cluster of smaller regional parties have firmed up a rainbow alliance projected by opinion polls as having a realistic chance of bagging six to seven seats.
In the previous parliamentary poll five years ago, DMK had won 18 seats and AIADMK nine. Some opinion polls have projected Jayalalithaa-led party to secure 24 seats this time and if that comes true, she will be a key factor in forming the next coalition government at the Centre in the event of a fractured electoral mandate.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram's son Karti, DMK's A Raja, the prime accused in 2G spectrum case, and senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar are among some of the key candidates in Tamil Nadu this time.
The 19 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra which went to poll today, including six in Mumbai, are crucial as the state's ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance is projected to be struggling in the state which has a total of 48 seats.
Mumbaikars shed some of their known polling-day apathy with 53 per cent voter turnout and overall, around 56 per cent of 3.18 crore voters exercised their franchise to decide the fate of 338 candidates including Union Minister Milind Deora, sitting MPs Priya Dutt and Sanjay Nirupam of Congress, social activist Medha Patkar and ministers in Prithviraj Chavan government Chhagan Bhujbal and Sunil Tatkare.
The turnout in Mumbai was a significant improvement over 2009 Lok Sabha elections when only 41.43 per cent electorate exercised their franchise.