By Bizodisha Bureau, Bhubaneswar, April 11, 2019: Voting for the first phase of election in four Parliamentary and 28 Assembly constituencies in Odisha ended Thursday with 66 per cent of the 60 lakh voters casting their votes by 5 pm, officials said.

Simultaneous elections are being held in the state to the 147-member Assembly and 21 Lok Sabha constituencies.

The first phase of polling started from 7 AM across 7,233 booths with thousands of first-time voters thronging the polling booths. While 26 candidates were in the fray for 4 Lok Sabha seats, there were 191 candidates for the 28 Assembly seats in the first phase of the elections. Of the 26 Lok Sabha candidates, only two are women while there are 16 women among 191 Assembly candidates.

The Election Commission deployed central paramilitary forces in 2,375 ‘Critical Polling Stations’. There was also a large turnout of voters in Maoist-affected Malkangiri district despite a call by the rebels to boycott the elections.

“We have been successful in conducting the first phase of polls in a free, fair and peaceful manner. There has been no untoward incident whatsoever reported in the polls. The failure rate of EVMs has been under 1%,” Odisha’s chief electoral officer Surendra Kumar told reporters.

Unlike in the past polls, very few banners or posters were seen in the first phase. Instead parties held more rallies to attract the voters.

However, like 2014, there is triangular fight in most of the 28 assembly and four Lok Sabha constituencies in the first phase. In Nabarangpur and Kalahandi Lok Sabha constituencies, BJD, BJP and Congress were engaged in a close fight while in Koraput Lok Sabha constituency, BJP and BJD were locked in an close fight. In Berhampur Lok Sabha seat, BJD and Congress were engaged in close fight.

The BJD chief and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik is confident that the his party BJD would do very well. Lambasting the BJP which has launched mission 120 plus seat in the 147 member state assembly, Naveen said, “The BJP leaders are here only during elections. In times of cyclone or other natural disasters, no central leaders are visible.”

The main issues all through the election campaign was farm distress and women’s reservation. As rising farm distress toppled the BJP governments in Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan last year, Naveen started Rs 10000 a year cash assistance scheme for small, marginal and landless farmers of the State. In a clear message to women voters, the BJD also gave tickets to women in 33 per cent of Lok Sabha seats.

The BJD also reignited its pet theme of central neglect with Naveen holding roadshows in a specially-designed high-tech bus. Bbattling anti-incumbency after ruling the State for four consecutive terms, the BJD is banking on Kalia scheme, a Rs 10180 crore direct cash assistance scheme for farmers and Mission Shakti, a women self-help group programme to see the regional party though.

Not to be left behind, the beleaguered Congress promised Rs 2600 minimum support price for paddy and assured farm loan waiver. On the other hand, BJP’s star campaigner, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, invoked nationalism and spoke about India’s air strike in Balakot to woo first-time voters.

In their manifestos, the BJP and the Congress focussed on farmers, women and the unemployed in the state. BJP promised a corruption-free, dynamic government, Rs one lakh crore investment in irrigation, zero interest rate loans to farmers, and said all vacant government jobs would be filled up in five years. The Congress in its manifesto promised farm loan waiver and minimum support price of Rs 2,600 for paddy. The party also promised 33 per cent quota for women in Parliament, state assembly and all government jobs.

When the Election Commission halted the disbursal of money under Kalia scheme citing violation of model code of conduct, Naveen said it was the handiwork of BJP and warned that farmers will give the saffron party a befitting reply in the polls.

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