India polls: All eyes on exit polls as world's largest elections draw to a close

This combination of photographs created on May 12, 2014, shows Chief Minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime-ministerial candidate Narendra Modi (L) as he addresses an election campaign rally in Mumbai o
This combination of photographs created on May 12, 2014, shows Chief Minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) prime-ministerial candidate Narendra Modi (L) as he addresses an election campaign rally in Mumbai on April 21, 2014 and Congress Party vice-president and prime-ministerial candidate Rahul Gandhi (R) as he addresses an election campaign rally in Kolkata on May 8, 2014. India's marathon general election wrapped up on May 12, 2014, five weeks after the start of the world's largest exercise in democracy. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - India's staggered nine-phase elections drew to a close as polling ended in the last 41 of the 543 parliamentary constituencies in an eventful election which has seen a high voter turnout coupled with a bitter fight between political opponents during the campaigning.

Voters turned out in large numbers to cast their votes in the Hindi heartland states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar on Monday while sporadic incidents of violence were reported from the eastern state of West Bengal.

Bihar saw 54 per cent voter turnout, while West Bengal recorded 77.41 per cent and Uttar Pradesh 55 per cent.

But reports of incidents of violence came in from West Bengal where 17 constituencies are polling.

Four villagers, according to reports, were shot at following a clash between supporters of rival parties in one constituency in West Bengal, while in another bombs were hurled at the house of a candidate.

The ruling Trinamool Congress and rival Left political rival traded blame for incident.There were no casualties.

Although temperatures have soared in the summer months of April and May, voters have been turning out in record numbers in these general elections characterised by a bitter campaign waged by the BJP and the Congress, the two main national parties.

According to initial estimates, around 66.38 per cent voters turned out all over the country, a jump from across 58 per cent in the 2009 general elections.

But the campaigning has been personal.

BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi traded personal insults through the campaign in a break from traditions where top leaders have refrained from making personal comments. Mr Modi called Mr Gandhi a prince while Mr Gandhi accused Mr Modi of having no respect for women.

In another break from political tradition Mr Modi campaigned in Amethi, the Gandhi stronghold, while Mr Gandhi took out a massive road show in Varanasi, where BJP's prime ministerial candidate is contesting.

Top leaders don't usually campaign in each others' constituency.

Around 814 million were eligible to vote for the 543 seats in the Lower House of parliament with over 100 million first-time voters.

The ruling Congress Party is expected to perform poorly after a decade in power with the BJP expected to win the largest number of seats but fall short of a simple majority which is the 272 mark in Parliament.

While results are expected on Friday May 16, the jostling for allies is expected to start soon.

The BJP's success will also depend on its performance on the Hindi heartland states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which together account for 120 seats.

Polling in the two populous and poor states has taken place over six phases.

In Uttar Pradesh, regional parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party have dominated in past elections but this time the BJP has run a high-stakes campaign with its prime ministerial candidate, who has never fought elections outside of the state of Gujarat, deciding to stand from Varanasi, a spiritual centre for Hindus.

Uttar Pradesh, in particular, has helped elect several prime ministers, including BJP's Atal Bejari Vajpayee, and members of the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty.

The BJP's campaign has been particularly aggressive in western parts of Uttar Pradesh where, in September last year, 43 people were killed in Hindu Muslim riots in Muzaffarnagar with Mr Modi's key aide Amit Shah forced to apologisie for making a communally charged statement.

Muslims in India are concerned about Mr Modi's failure to control riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002 in which more Muslims than Hindus were killed.

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