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Voting starts as 16 killed by Maoist attacks, Varun Gandhi freed

Article published on the 2009-04-16 Latest update 2009-04-20 09:19 TU

A woman voting at a polling station in Waifad village, 90 kilometres south-west of Nagpur city, in Maharashtra state on 16 April 2009(Photo: Reuters)

A woman voting at a polling station in Waifad village, 90 kilometres south-west of Nagpur city, in Maharashtra state on 16 April 2009
(Photo: Reuters)

Voting has started in India's election, in which 714 million registered voters have their opportunity to go to the polls. The first of five phases began on Thursday. The election has already been disrupted by attacks by Maoist rebels in the east of the country.

More than two million security personnel are on watch, to try and prevent militant groups from disrupting proceedings. But at least 16 people have been killed in attacks in Jharkhand, Chattisgarh and Bihar states.

Seven soldiers and two civilians were killed in Ranchi, Jharkhand state, when Maoist guerrillas detonated a landmine and ambushed a bus. In Gaya district, in Bihar, two security personnel were killed by the militant group. And in Chattisgarh Maoists blew up a jeep, killing five, police say.

Several serious gunbattles were also reported in two Chattisgarh districts.

The Supreme Court on Thursday conditionally released Varun Gandhi,  who has broken from the Congress party, which is traditionally dominated by his family, to stand as a candidate for the rival Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He had been jailed for inciting religious hatred after declaring at a rally that his party would "cut the heads off Muslims".

The court ordered his release "on condition that ... he will not make such speeches likely to cause communal disturbance and hatred among any caste and community".

The incumbent Indian National Congress and the Hindu-nationalist BJP are seen as the parties capable of securing a majority in the country’s 15th general election. But the formation of a coalition is likely to be necessary, if a viable majority is not secured.

A proliferation of parties, including some claiming to represent regions and communities, makes Indian politics a complex process of forging and breaking alliances.

Analyst Dhirubhai Sheth believes that forming coalitions has its positive side.

"One should not forget that India is a multicultural, multireligious, multilingual national state and so many voices have got to come and reflect into government," he told RFI.

"Those wheelings and dealings and some kind of negotiations, that’s part of democratic life in India, I suppose. But, on the whole, I think it’s manageable."

Analysis: Dhirubhai Sheth at the Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla

16/04/2009 by Salil Sarkar

There are 543 seats up for grabs in the lower house, and results are due on 16 May after five stages of voting.

A new parliament is expected to be in place by the 2 June.

 On France 24 TV

India votes