Polling begins in Andhra Pradesh

Hyderabad, April 16 (Inditop) Polling began Thursday for the first phase of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and state assembly in Andhra Pradesh amid tight security.

The polling booths opened at 7 a.m. to enable voters to cast their vote in 22 Lok Sabha and 154 assembly constituencies.

Over 31.2 million (Rs.3.12 crore) voters, half of them women, will decide the political fortunes of 2,148 candidates – 315 for Lok Sabha and 1,833 for assembly polls.

Hyderabad and nine other districts in Telangana, and three districts of north coastal Andhra bordering Orissa are going to polls in the first phase.

The election officials have set up 36,320 polling booths in 13 districts and are using 72,972 electronic voting machines. The polling will conclude at 4 p.m. as the authorities have reduced the time by one hour due to security reasons.

State chief electoral officer I.V. Subba Rao said four helicopters were being used to ferry men and material to inaccessible areas.

As part of the massive security arrangements, 60,947 policemen and 123 companies of paramilitary forces like the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and Border Security Force (BSF) have been deployed. There are also 3,530 mobile parties, 984 striking forces and 353 special striking forces to ensure smooth polling and deal with any eventuality.

Tight vigil is being maintained at 2,109 troublesome, 4,848 sensitive, 3,090 hyper-sensitive and 2,337 extremist affected polling stations.

Though the Maoist movement has considerably weakened in the state, the authorities are not taking any chances and police are on high alert, especially in areas bordering Chhattisgarh and Orissa. Officials said the alert was in view of the recent incidents of Maoist violence in neighbouring states.

The ruling Congress party and the four-party Grand Alliance led by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) are locked in a neck to neck battle in constituencies going to polls in the first phase with the Praja Rajyam party of superstar Chiranjeevi out to prove itself as the third major political force.

The prominent among the candidates for Lok Sabha elections include union ministers S. Jaipal Reddy, Renuka Chowdary and D. Purandareswari, All India Congress Committee (AICC) secretary Madhu Yaskhi Goud, Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) president K. Chandrasekhara Rao, film actress Vijayashanti of TRS, TDP leader K. Yerran Naidu, Communist Party of India (CPI) national secretary S. Sudhakar Reddy, Praja Rajyam vice-president T. Devender Goud, Praja Rajyam general secretary Allu Aravind and state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Bandaru Dattatreya.

The key candidates for assembly elections include state Congress president D. Srinivas, assembly speaker K.R. Suresh Reddy, former bureaucrat and Lok Satta president Jaiprakash Narayan, actress Jayasudha of the Congress, actor Babu Mohan of the TDP and several state ministers.

The second phase of polls on April 23 will cover 20 Lok Sabha and 150 assembly constituencies in south coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema.