India polls: Voters brave summer heat to queue up in large numbers

People wait to cast their vote at a polling station in the final phase of India's general election in Varanasi, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, on May 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
People wait to cast their vote at a polling station in the final phase of India's general election in Varanasi, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, on May 12, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI - Indian voters braved the summer heat to come out in large numbers on Monday to cast their votes in the Hindi heartland states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar while sporadic incidents of violence were reported from the eastern state of West Bengal.

Halfway through the polling process, at 1 pm local time (3.30 pm, Singapore time), voter turnout in Bihar was 37.86 per cent, 36.29 per cent in Uttar Pradesh and a massive 56.38 per cent in West Bengal.

There were reports of stray incidents of violence in West Bengal where 17 constituencies are polling.

In one incident, 13 people were were injured in a clash between supporters of Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Trinamool Congress supporters while in another incident two crude bombs were thrown at the house of a BJP candidate, Ms Meena Devi Purohit. No one was injured, reports said.

The ruling Trinamool Congress and the rival Left parties traded blame for the incidents.

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 front-running Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, the two main national parties.

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. The BJP is 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 Narendra Modi, who has never fought elections outside of the state of Gujarat, deciding to stand from Varanasi, a spiritual centre for Hindus.

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