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Polling begins in northern Indian states

STORY: Voters turned up at polling booths to exercise their franchise in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand states on Wednesday (February 15).

Uttar Pradesh’s elections will take place in multiple stages for over a month to elect a new assembly which will govern the mostly poor state of nearly 220 million people that lies along the river Ganges.

A total of 721 candidates are in the fray for the second phase of polls being held in 67 constituencies across 11 districts in Uttar Pradesh. Police and secuirty personnel were deployed at every polling booth to ensure free and fair voting.

Voters said they wanted someone who could contribute to development of the state.

“I want that there is growth and development in my country. I just want that,” said a voter, Lakshmikant Rai, in Bijnor district.

“We have voted to usher in change in the state. A good candidate should win and a good government should be formed which will work for development of all,” said Kamlesh Yadav, a voter in Moradabad city.

Voters have shown growing impatience on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign promises of development have failed to deliver new jobs to a state where per capita incomes average less than $750 a year, and many communities lack access to power, clean water and basic medical services.

Uttar Pradesh elections will deliver a mid-term verdict on Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which polled 42 percent of the vote in state in 2014 general elections, sweeping 71 out of 80 seats. A strong showing at the polls would strengthen his chances of a second term in 2019.

BJP is pitted against an alliance of the state’s ruling Samajwadi (socialist) Party and the grand old Congress party. In the third corner of the contest is low caste Dalit leader Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which ruled the state from 2007 to 2012.

Any party polling significantly over 30 percent of the vote can win by a landslide.

Meanwhile, polling for single-phased elections in hilly Uttarakhand state also began on Wednesday. Nearly 7,400,000 electors will vote for 628 candidates across 69 constituencies.

“(I voted for) someone who will work for the development of Haldwani. If you look at our roads, there are potholes everywhere. So I want development to take place in every field, including the education system,” said a voter, Saumya Bisht, in Haldwani city.

The main contest in Uttarakhand is between BJP and Congress with the absence of any prmonent third player.

The two parties have ruled the state alternatively since 2000, when the province was carved out of Uttar Pradesh.

Winning the Hindu bastion state is crucial for Modi’s nationalist party to improve its numbers in the upper house of the parliament, where several reforms of his government have been held up by the opposition.

Results from Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand elections, along with those in northern Punjab, western Goa and northeastern Manipur states will come out on March 11.

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