Violent start to Indian election as rebels kill 17

Maoists shoot and kidnap voters, officials and soldiers on first polling day

The start of voting in India's general election – by far the biggest in the world – was scarred by violence as Maoist rebels were blamed for the deaths of at least 17 people, including five election officials and almost a dozen police officers.

The election officials were killed by a landmine blast in the state of Chhattisgarh. In the eastern state of Jharkhand, eight officials were kidnapped. In areas controlled by the Maoists and nearby districts under their influence, many voters opted not to go to the polls.

Despite the fear of violence, a healthy percentage of voters in the first of five phases of voting appeared to make it to cast their vote. Polling experts predicted a turnout of up to 62 per cent.

"People want democracy to triumph," said Tarun Gogoi, the senior official in Assam, which has been persistently hit by insurgency.

India's total electorate stands at about 714 million. Such is the scale that voting is staggered over a month with different states going to the polls on different days. The results are not expected until 16 May.

As the government yesterday deployed hundreds of thousands of police to protect more than 140 million people eligible to vote in the first phase, some election officials in the most remote areas rode elephants to polling stations near the border with Burma. In the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, ballots were brought to voters by a two-day sea trip.

Polls suggest that the ruling Congress party-led coalition will most likely emerge as the group with most seats, seeing off a challenge from an alliance headed by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

But for either to govern, both would need to win the support of the smaller parties with specific local interests that are dotted around the country. As a result, what happens after 16 May, when the results are finally known, will be as important as what happens before.

But the co-ordinated attacks by the Maoist rebels, known as Naxalites, were the most immediate concern yesterday. They are thought to be the first concerted such effort by the Naxalites on election day.

Early yesterday morning, suspected rebels opened fire on paramilitary forces patrolling in the eastern state of Jharkhand, killing five soldiers. Reinforcements were sent to secure the area in Latehar, about 80 miles north-west of the state capital, Ranchi.

Meanwhile, in the neighbouring state of Bihar, suspected rebels attacked a polling station in Gaya district, killing a policeman, said the area's deputy inspector general, Anupama Nilokar.

The Naxal rebels have fought the government for decades in a handful of rural regions, charging authorities with plundering natural resources while providing little to local residents.

Since Saturday, nearly 20 police officers have died in their attacks. Reinforcements have been rushed to the targeted areas from New Delhi.

It was also announced that the aspiring politician Varun Gandhi, who was jailed for an anti-Islamic diatribe that he delivered during an election rally, which was alleged to be hate speech, is to be released on parole.

Mr Gandhi, 29, is the grandson of India's former prime minister, Indira. He promised not to make provocative speeches for the rest of the campaign.

The Indian Supreme Court ordered that he should be made to serve two weeks of parole. The move allows him to enter the election as a candidate for the BJP. "The Bharatiya Janata Party welcomes the Supreme Court decision," said the party spokesman Balbir Punj. Mr Gandhi is expected to file his candidacy papers next week in Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh state, the seat formerly held by his mother.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future