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09NEWDELHI756 2009-04-16 15:56:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy New Delhi
Cable title:  

SUBJECT: BHARAT BALLOT 09: INDIA GOES TO THE

Tags:   PGOV PREL PINR KDEM IN 
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					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 NEW DELHI 000756 

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR KDEM IN
SUBJECT: SUBJECT: BHARAT BALLOT 09: INDIA GOES TO THE
POLLS, PHASE 1

REF: BHARAT BALLOT 09 SERIES



1. Summary: (U) On April 16, Indian voters cast their
ballots in 124 election districts across 17 states and
territories in the first of five phases of parliamentary
elections, thus marking the start of the biggest democratic
exercise the world has ever seen. Polling in the first round
was generally peaceful and smooth. The turnout appeared to
vary from state to state but was in line with previous
elections. Votes will be counted and results announced on
May 16 after all five phases of polling have been completed
and 714 million voters have had a chance to cast their ballot
to elect a new lower house of parliament and a new
government. End Summary.



2. (U) Voters in 17 states and territories went to the polls
in the first of five phases of India's national parliamentary
elections. The first phase comprised 124 of India's 543
seats. The total electorate in these constituencies is 158
million; 1,715 candidates from 162 political parties are
contesting for these seats. Counting will take place and
results announced on May 16 after the completion of all five
phases of polling over the next month.



3. (U) The Election Commission has prohibited exit polls on
grounds that they can be manipulated and could influence
voter behavior in subsequent rounds. It is not possible,
therefore, to get a quick read on any trends or patterns in
how voters cast their ballots today. The Commission has not
yet officially announced today's voter turnout but early
reports suggest that turnout varied from very high in some
areas (Northeast, Orissa) to tepid (some parts of Andhra
Pradesh) but was generally in line with previous elections.



4. (U) The 124 parliamentary constituencies going to the
polls in the first phase are located in the following
states/territories):
-- Assam (3 of 10 seats)
-- all Northeast, other than Assam (7 seats)
-- Chhattisgarh (all 11 seats)
-- Uttar Pradesh (16 of 80 seats)
-- Bihar (13 of 40 seats)
-- Jharkhand (6 of 10 seats)
-- Orissa (10 of 21 seats; concurrent state assembly
elections)
-- Andhra Pradesh (22 of 42 seats; concurrent state assembly
elections)
-- Maharashtra (13 of 48 seats)
-- Kerala (all 20 seats)
-- Jammu and Kashmir (1 out of 6 seats)
-- Andaman and Nicobar; Lakshadweep (both seats)

Peaceful Polls


--------------------------





5. (U) Considering that most of the constituencies going to
the polls are located in some of the most violence prone
parts of the country - the Northeast, the Maoists/Naxalite
affected states in central-eastern India, and Jammu and
Kashmir -- the first round of elections appears to have been
remarkably peaceful. There were a few scattered incidents of
violence, mostly attributed to Maoist/Naxalite attempts to
disrupt the process at some polling booths in the states of
Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, and Orissa. According to
media reports 17 people were killed in over a dozen attacks
by extremists at polling booths or against government
personnel involved in managing the elections. In the Indian
context, this is a very low level of violence in an election
exercise where passions, grievances and stakes can run high.


Big Names Contestants


--------------------------



NEW DELHI 00000756 002 OF 004





6. (U) Some of the prominent personalities contesting during
phase 1 include: GOI Ministers Lalu Prasad Yadav (Railways),
Ram Vilas Paswan (Indian Chemicals/Fertilizers and Steel),
Renuka Choudhary (Women and Child Development), Vilas
Muttemwar (Renewable Energy), Praful Patel (Aviation),
E.Ahamed (External Affairs), S. Jaipal Reddy (Urban
Development), D. Punandareswari (Human Resource Development);
BJP heavyweight Murali Manohar Joshi; rising BJP star Yogi
Adityanath; former BJP Minister Rudra Pratap Rudy; former UN
Undersecretary Shashi Tharoor.

Uttar Pradesh


--------------------------





7. (U) Uttar Pradesh's 16 eastern constituencies, also known
as Purvanchal, went to the polls in the first phase of
India's parliamentary elections. (Note: Uttar Pradesh, a
poor, largely rural state of 185 million, holds the largest
number of Lok Sabha seats (eighty) and will be crucial to any
coalition hoping to come to power in New Delhi. End Note.)
There were no reports of violence during voting in the
region, and voter turnout seemed to be on par with past
Indian parliamentary elections (55-65 percent). Although no
single party seems poised to sweep the region, India's two
national parties -- the Congress Party and the Bharatiya
Janata Party (BJP) -- could possibly pick up seats in the
area at the expense of regional parties, the Bahujan Samaj
Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP).

Kerala


--------------------------





8. (U) Voters cast their ballots in all 20 parliamentary
seats of Kerala today. The ruling Communist Left Democratic
Alliance which wiped out the Congress Party in 2004 is
playing defense against a resurgent Congress Party, which may
make significant gains in the state. The left parties are
weighed down by infighting, scandal and voter disenchantment.
The polling in the state on April 16 was peaceful. Heat and
humidity is reported to have depressed turnout statewide to
56 percent, down from the usually high 65 plus percent that
occurs in Kerala.

Andhra Pradesh


--------------------------





9. (U) In Andhra Pradesh (AP), polling for the concurrent
2009 parliamentary and state assembly elections took place
today in 22 parliamentary and 154 state Assembly
constituencies across 10 districts in Telangana and three
districts in North Coastal Andhra. The remaining
parliamentary and state assembly contests in 20 parliamentary
election districts will take place on April 23. Polling was
peaceful, in part because Andhra Pradesh instituted elaborate
security arrangements to ensure that violence by Naxalite or
other groups did not disrupt voting. More than 60,000 police
and paramilitary forces were deployed to maintain law and
order around 36,061 polling stations, of which 12,384 were
designated at sensitive, hypersensitive, extremist affected,
or troublesome.



10. (U) Early news reports noted that as many as 30 million
people could turn out to exercise their franchise in the
state. However, media contacts indicate that there was only a
13-15 percent turnout in the first 3 hours and electronic
media reports only a 50 percent turnout by the end of the
day. Spot reporting bears this out and highlights how turnout
varied greatly from neighborhood to neighborhood. At the
polling station in Secunderabad's affluent West Maredapally
area, turnout was significantly higher than in previous years
as whole families disembarked from Honda Civics to vote.
Conversely, the streets of Hyderabad's predominantly Muslim

NEW DELHI 00000756 003 OF 004


Old City were empty except for police, as residents avoided
polling stations fearing a repeat of the communal violence
that erupted during the last election. At the Bharat Heavy
Electricals Ltd. (BHEL) enclave on the northern edge of
Hyderabad, locals said that many residents had taken
advantage of the voting to depart on holiday over the long
weekend. Local officials noted that turnout in rural
Sangareddy district was higher than previous elections. They
attributed this to effective "get-out-the-vote" television
campaigns and the efforts of the Election Commission.
However, the issues of rural development and irrigation were
the primary reasons cited by most voters for turning out to
vote.



11. (U) While overall it seems that voting was conducted in
an orderly manner (wait times were less than 30 minutes),
there were sporadic complaints and te State Election Officer
announced that 17 voting stations in Mahbubnagar would be
re-polled. There were several reports of the failure of
voting machines and some complaints of aspiring voters to
appear on the lists. Turnout of the much hyped 'youth vote'
may have been impacted by the timing of the polls to coincide
with university examinations.

Orissa


--------------------------





12. (U) Voters in 10 of Orissa's 21 parliamentary districts
went to the polls on April 16. The balance of the state will
go the polls in the second phase on April 23. Orissa is also
concurrently holding elections to it state legislature, the
five year term of which has run out. Most parliamentary
constituencies in the state are seeing three-cornered
contests between the Congress Party, the BJP and Naveen
Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal, which dramatically broke away
recently from the BJP after a 10-year alliance. One of the
seats in contention includes Kandhamal, the site of violence
against Christians during the past year. Reports are that
turn out was high despite the heat and recent communal
tension. The polling was peaceful except for reported
Maoists raids on four polling stations where extremists set
fire to voting machines and a vehicle in Malkangiri and
Sundargarh districts.

Maharashtra


--------------------------





13. (U) Polling for 13 out of Maharashtra's total 48 seats
also occurred today. Ten of the Maharashtra seats are in the
eastern region of Vidarbha. Polling was peaceful,
notwithstanding one reported attempt by Maoists/Naxalites to
disrupt the election. Prominent local candidates and caste
politics will be factors in the elections in the Vidarbha
region. Dalits, a significant proportion of voters in
Vidarbha, are likely to split their votes among candidates
from all the major contesting parties, including the Congress
Party, BJP, Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party, and Maharashtra's
Republican Party of India.



14. (U) In the Gadchiroli district of Vidarbha, police claim
to have foiled an attempted Maoist attack on a village
polling place. District Superintendent of Police Rajesh
Pradhan told the press that police opened fire and chased the
insurgents back into the jungle. There were no casualties but
the attackers reportedly left behind weapons and explosives.
Earlier this month Maoist extremists ambushed a police party
in the densely forested district of Gadchiroli, killing 15.
(Note: The tribal population is nearly 39 percent, more than
double the state average of 17 percent. End Note.)

Naxalite Activity Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand


--------------------------

---


NEW DELHI 00000756 004 OF 004




15. (U) Polling for all 11 parliamentary seats of
Chhattisgarh took place on April 16. The BJP, which returned
to power under Chief Minister Raman Singh less than six
months ago, hopes to put in a strong performance. Despite the
attacks on a few polling places, the state elections were
conducted safely, and turn-out was high (70.53 percent across
the state, roughly 6.4 million voters). There were reports
of violence at six polling sites in the Bastar district of
southern Chhattisgarh shortly after the polls opened at 7 am.
(Note: The southern Chhattisgarh constituency of Bastar
comprises the two, large, mineral-rich districts of Bastar
and Dantewada, which is the epicenter of the state's Naxalite
insurgency. The constituency is largely tribal, rural, and
extremely poor and underdeveloped. End Note.) Chhattisgarh
Additional Director General of Police Girdhari Nayak told the
press, "The (Maoist) rebels fired at six booths in Dantewada
and Narayanpur districts but no one was injured." The
voters, reportedly 20 tribals, panicked and ran away.
Hindustan Times reporter Ejaz Kaiser told Congenoff he has
unconfirmed reports of four polling staff killed in
Chhattisgarh when their vehicle hit a land mine on the way to
the polls in the early morning. Kaiser is also working to
confirm reports of two security police injured and the
looting of one electronic voting machine.



16. (U) In Jharkhand, one of the least developed and most
Naxalite-affected states of India, there were reports of
seven Border Security Force personnel killed in a single
attack when extremists detonated a land mine over a bus that
was transporting paramilitary soldiers to an election center.
There were two gun battles between security forces and
Maoists in Khuti and Palamau districts, disrupting voting in
both places, police spokesman K.N. Pradhan said.



17. (U) In Bihar, a crucial electoral state where the
Congress Party and its erstwhile allies Lalu Prasad Yadav and
Ram Vilas Paswan are contesting, polling took place for 13 of
the states 40 seats. BJP ally Nitish Kumar is reported to be
well positioned to make major gains in the state. There were
reports that Lalu Prasad Yadav is facing a tough battle for
his own seat, thus forcing him to devote attention to his own
constituency and limiting his ability to canvas for his party
in other parts of the state. According to a media report,
Maoists/Naxalites were responsible for killing one policeman
and a Home Guard when they opened fire at a polling station
in Bankebazaar in Gaya district, about 130 km from the state
capital Patna. They also looted an electronic voting machine
and four rifles.

Assam, Northeast and Jammu and Kashmir


--------------------------





18. (U) Polling was peaceful and smooth. Turnout was
generally high. There were not reported incident of violence
in these states which have had a history of terrorist related
violence, with many groups holding deep grievances against
the Indian state.
BURLEIGH