Indians begin voting in second phase of mammoth general election

Voters across swathes of southern India began queuing up early on Thursday in the second phase of a mammoth, staggered general election in which opposition parties are trying to stop Prime Minister Narendra Modi from winning a second term.
More than 155 million people are eligible to vote in the second phase, which covers 95 parliament constituencies in 12 states including parts of Jammu and Kashmir. India's parliament has 545 members.
Indian election authorities have cancelled voting in a southern region of the country after seizing more than 110 million rupees ($1.5 million) they believe was meant to influence the outcome, officials said on Wednesday.
It is the first time a ballot has been cancelled in a national election over attempted vote-buying, officials said.
The decision comes as Indians vote in a mammoth national election being held over several phases, the next of which begins on Thursday.
It is the first time a ballot has been cancelled in a national election over attempted vote-buying, officials said.
The decision comes as Indians vote in a mammoth national election being held over several phases, the next of which begins on Thursday.
But voters in the Vellore constituency in coastal Tamil Nadu state will not be going to the polls as scheduled after the Election Commission of India ruled there were fears of a "systematic design to influence voters".
The ruling came after authorities seized more than 110 million rupees from a candidate in the run-up to the vote.
The commission said late on Tuesday that the environment in Vellore was no longer conducive to "free and ethical" elections.
Nearly 100 constituencies in 13 states go to the polls on Thursday in the second round of the seven-phase election that began on April 11.
Almost 900 million voters are eligible to cast their votes to elect 543 members to the lower house of the parliament, with results expected on May 23.
Attempts to secure votes in return for cash, liquor, electronic gadgets and even goats have been reported across Tamil Nadu in the run-up to voting.
More than 1.3 billion rupees ($18.7 million) and one ton of gold worth 3 billion rupees have been seized in the state since the poll dates were announced on March 10.
Elsewhere in the country, polls have been delayed by five days in parts of the northeastern state of Tripura over security fears.Polls will be held there on April 23 instead of on Thursday.
And in the country's east, Bangladeshi star actor Ferdous Ahmed has been forced to leave India after he was discovered campaigning for a candidate from the opposition Congress party, officials at the Bangladesh High Commission in Kolkata said.
The focus will be on the southern states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where the main opposition Congress party and its allies need to win big if they hope to oust Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
"If the non-BJP parties perform well in these two states, then they would still be having a chance of forming a non-BJP government at the centre," said Sanjay Kumar, director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, a think tank based in the capital, New Delhi.
The election began last week and will end next month in a giant exercise involving almost 900 million people.
Votes will be counted on May 23 and the results are expected the same day.
The BJP began the election as the frontrunner, with Modi setting muscular national security as his campaign plank after a spike in hostilities with Pakistan.
The ruling party of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Wednesday it will field a candidate accused of involvement in a deadly 2008 bomb blast in the country's ongoing national election.
Pragya Singh Thakur, a 48-year-old female monk, is out on bail while she faces charges related to the attack that killed six people.Thakur, a firebrand speaker, made national headlines after the blast close to a mosque in western Maharashtra state's Malegaon city that also injured around 100 people.
She was arrested shortly after the attack and was described by authorities as a leading plotter. Indian law allows candidates facing court cases to run up until the time of any conviction.
“All conspiracies against me have failed. I am an ascetic monk and will ensure justice and respect for my country,” Thakur said, clad in traditional Hindu saffron clothes, at a press conference in Bhopal.
“I am confident, fully confident. I am ready for politics and (this) religious war,” she added, flanked by regional party leaders.
Thakur was released on bail in 2017 and has had one charge against her dropped but still faces other charges in the ongoing trial.
Her candidacy in Bhopal — a BJP stronghold constituency in a key heartland state — is expected to polarise local voters.
Her main rival is the outspoken and controversial Digvijaya Singh, from the opposition Congress party.
Hindu nationalists accuse Singh of using the term “saffron terror”, which they view as objectionable, to refer to acts of violence by right-wing extremists targeting areas with large Muslim populations.
India's election is taking place in seven phases, with voting in Bhopal not scheduled until May 12. Results in the vote, the world's largest, are expected on May 23.
The election is seen as a referendum on Modi, who is seeking a second term from the country's 900 million voters.
The opposition Congress party has tried to undermine support for Modi by pointing to his lacklustre economic performance in the last five years.
The BJP meanwhile has focus on Modi's key social schemes and a hardline nationalist stance.
Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi has lashed out at her own party for reportedly reinstating some of its leaders days after disciplinary proceedings were initiated against them for alleged unruly behaviour with Chaturvedi.
"Deeply saddened that lumpen goons get presence in Congress over those who have given their sweat&blood. Having faced brickbats&abuse across board for the party but yet those who threatened me within the party getting away with not even a rap on their knuckles is unfortunate," she tweeted.
According to The Quint, the letter on which Chaturvedi’s tweet was based was from the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee. The letter stated which said that there were disciplinary proceedings initiated against eight Congress leaders for their unrestrained behaviour during a press conference on the Rafale deal in Mathura.Thunderstorms swept across western India killing at least 35 people and leaving widespread damage, officials said on Wednesday.
Strong winds barrelled through Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh states felling walls, trees and electricity lines. The storms have also been blamed for at least 25 deaths in Pakistan this week.
At least 10 people were killed in the desert state of Rajasthan, where a wall of dust swept over several cities. Another 10 were killed in neighbouring Gujarat and 15 in the central state of Madhya Pradesh, state emergency services told AFP.
Officials said victims were hit by lightning, falling trees or electrocuted by power lines. Strong winds and sudden rains also hit the capital, New Delhi, bringing searing summer temperatures down by 10 degrees.
The storms forced the cancellation of several political rallies as India's national election gathers pace. The wind blew away a tent that was to have been used for a rally by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Himmatnagar in Gujarat.
More than 125 people were killed in a wave of storms that battered northern Indian states in May last year. Lightning kills thousands in India every year, mostly farmers working in fields.



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South Punjab News : Indians begin voting in second phase of mammoth general election
Indians begin voting in second phase of mammoth general election
The decision comes as Indians vote in a mammoth national election being held over several phases, the next of which begins on Thursday. It is the first time a ballot has been cancelled in a national election over attempted vote-buying, officials said.
South Punjab News
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