Death toll rises to 9 in India, casting pall over big day of voting in national elections

An Indian policeman and a polling official are treated in hospital after an attack on police and election polling officials in Ranchi on April 25, 2014. STRSTRDEL/AFP/Getty Images

AIJAZ HUSSAIN
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

SRINAGAR, India — The death toll from a major day of voting in the world’s biggest election rose to nine Friday, according to police, who say suspected rebels killed five paramilitary soldiers and four polling officials who were travelling on buses after conducting balloting in two Indian states.

The violence happened Thursday when Maoist insurgents triggered a roadside land mine blast and then fired at those going in one of the buses near Shikaripada, a village in eastern Jharkhand state, said Anurag Gupta, a state police spokesman.

Five paramilitary soldiers and three polling officials carrying voting machines were killed in the attack, Gupta said.

Suspected rebels also fatally shot an Indian poll official and wounded four other people in an attack on another bus in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir in the north.

With 814 million eligible voters, India is voting in phases over six weeks, with results expected May 16. Thursday’s violence came as millions of people turned out in 11 states for the second-biggest day of voting in the election.

Voting covered 117 parliamentary seats across 11 states, many heavily populated. These included Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, which are crucial for determining the winner between the governing Congress party and Hindu nationalist opposition.

In Kashmir, police said the deadly attack also wounded a poll officer, two paramilitary soldiers and a policeman. The district is about 65 kilometres (40 miles) south of Srinagar, the largest city in India-controlled Kashmir.

Hundreds of protesters hurled rocks at polling stations in the disputed Himalayan territory and shouted “Down with India.”

Government forces used tear gas and wooden batons to disperse the protesters, but there was no disruption of the voting, police said.

Nine paramilitary soldiers, three policemen and a polling officer were injured in an attack by protesters in the Anantnag constituency, police said.

More than 28 per cent of the 1.3 million eligible voters cast their ballots in the troubled region, said Umang Narula, an Election Commission official.

Indian Kashmir elects only six members of the 543-member Indian Parliament, but voting there will take place over several days due to security concerns.

Rebels and separatist politicians have urged people to boycott the vote to show that they do not recognize India’s sovereignty. More than a dozen rebel groups have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence from India or merger with Pakistan since 1989.

The main Hindu opposition Bharatiya Janata Party went into the election with strong momentum on promises of a surge in economic growth. Early polls suggest there is deep dissatisfaction with the governing Congress party’s 10 years in power.

Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, on Thursday filed his nomination papers for contesting the parliamentary elections from the northern holy city of Varanasi.

01:40ET 25-04-14

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