PATNA, India (AP) - Voting started peacefully in the second
round of India's monthlong national elections Thursday, a day after
communist rebels briefly hijacked a train carrying 300 passengers
and carried out other attacks aimed at disrupting the polls.
Government forces were on high alert as thousands of people
crowded polling stations early in the day to avoid blazing
summertime temperatures touching 111 degrees Fahrenheit (44
Celsius) in parts of the eastern states of Orissa, Jharkhand and
Reflecting the myriad differences of India's electorate, few
expected a clear winner after a lackluster campaign that has been
devoid of resonant, central issues.
Much of Wednesday's violence was focused in eastern and central
India where communist guerrillas have fought for decades for the
rights of the poor, but tensions remained high in other regions as
the elections exposed ethnic, religious and caste divides in the
nation of some 1.2 billion people.
Suspected rebels killed a truck driver on a highway Wednesday in
Bihar, considered one of the most lawless states, said Neelmani, a
local police official who uses only one name.
Nearly 250 guerrillas stopped a train in a show of force and
held the passengers hostage for several hours in the eastern state
of Jharkhand, where Maoist rebels have vowed to disrupt the
elections, senior police official Hemant Toppo said.
All the passengers were released unharmed and their was no
confrontation with security forces in the Maoist rebel stronghold
about 560 miles (900 kilometers) east of New Delhi.
During the first phase of voting last Thursday, more than three
dozen attacks by Maoist fighters killed at least 17 people -
including police, soldiers, election officials and civilians - in
Bihar, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh states. Three election officials
The rebels, called Naxalites, have called for a boycott of the
elections, and a pamphlet left at one attacked government office
described the vote as "a fake exercise."
"You will pay with your lives if you participate in these
elections," it read.
The voting is being conducted in five phases and is to be
completed on May 13. The results are expected on May 16.
With more than 700 million voters, India normally holds
staggered elections for logistic and security reasons.
Tensions were also high in other areas.
In India's troubled northeast, troops were put on alert to
prevent ethnic separatists from carrying out attacks.
"We have directed our border guards to remain on heightened
vigil," Assam state police Chief G.M. Srivastava after tribal
militants ambushed a convoy of trucks in southern Assam on Monday,
killing five police escorts and a civilian driver.
In the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh - which has a
bitter history of religious and caste violence - more than 60,000
policemen and paramilitary personnel were deployed.
Polls indicate neither the Congress party, which leads the
governing coalition, nor the main opposition, the Hindu nationalist
Bharatiya Janata Party, will win enough seats in the 543-seat lower
house of Parliament to rule on their own.
Instead, many of the seats are expected to go to a range of
regional and caste-based parties that tend to focus on local issues
and local promises, from cheaper electricity for farmers to free
That means the elections will likely leave India with a shaky
coalition government cobbled together from across the political
spectrum - a situation that could leave the next prime minister
little time to deal with India's many troubles.