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55 pc cast vote in second phase
5 cops die in Naxal violence
Ajay Banerjee
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, April 23
Just a week after Naxals carried out coordinated attacks during the first phase of polling, five policemen were killed and a civilian driver of their vehicle was critically injured when Maoist guerrillas set off a landmine in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur district as the polling for 13 LS seats in the state ended today.

The second phase in 140 constituencies across 12 states was completed today, but the low turnout in certain states indicates that Naxal threats to boycott the polls may have had an impact on some people. Or was it the searing heat as temperatures touched 40 degrees in the plains that kept the voters away?

According to the Election Commission, the average polling was over 55 per cent across the states. The polls in north-east states of Assam and Tripura passed off peacefully with a high polling percentage.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife Gursharan Kaur cast their votes at a polling station in the Guwahati Lok Sabha segment in Assam amid high security.

The surprise was the Hindi belt of UP and Bihar. Like the last phase, these two states again witnessed a low turnout at 44 per cent each and this could upset several pre-poll calculations in the caste-ridden politics of these two states.

With Jharkand and MP reporting 46 per cent and 45 per cent, respectively, the low turnout has raised many an eyebrow. The second phase of the five-round elections saw the electorate fate of a number of political heavyweights, including Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, former Defence Minister George Fernandes, BJP’s Sushma Swaraj, Ram Vilas Paswan, Kamal Nath, Akhilesh Prasad Singh ,Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and M Pallam Raju, being sealed.

However, the violence in the second and the largest phase covering 140 seats was much less compared to the first one a week ago when 18 persons were killed by Naxals in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa. Attempts of violence by Naxals were stone-walled by central forces and the police of various states. Some 27 constituencies in today’s poll were in the areas that have been affected by the Naxal violence. A large swath of the area in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa were abutting the “Naxal-belt”.

Executive Magistrate of Giridh Rajendra Prasad, however, had a narrow escape when Maoists lobbed a bomb at his vehicle. Security forces also repulsed a Naxalite bid to disrupt polling in Bansdera in East Singhbhum, 165 km from Jharkhand capital.

A fierce hour-long gunbattle also ensued between forces and ultras. The Home Ministry had requisitioned IAF choppers that could be pressed into service at a short notice. Sources informed that armed men were ready to repulse any attack.

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