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India Votes in Fourth Phase of General Elections


Thursday's fourth round of India's staggered general election saw millions of people cast votes in seven states and in the federally-administered capital, New Delhi. Polling to choose a new parliament will be completed next week. after one more round of voting, and results will be counted on May 16.

In the suburb of Gurgaon, on the outskirts of New Delhi, voters turned up early to cast votes before the scorching midday heat set in.

In this booming business hub, many people are voting on bread-and-butter issues like the economy and jobs. Suchorit Bhattacharya say they want a new government to focus on issues such as poor infrastructure.

"In spite of the swanky buildings, the roads are bad. Electricity, water, you have security. Those should be tackled," said Bhattacharya. "It is high time that leaders should take note of it."

But, in adjoining villages, the picture is different. Here, many voters are choosing to support candidates or parties which represent their caste.

This voter emerged from a polling booth saying his vote went to the candidate who belongs to his community.

In addition to the two main political parties - the ruling Congress Party and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party - many caste-based and regional parties have emerged in India, in the last two decades. They figure to capture a significant number of the 543 Parliament seats.

Thursday's vote covered 85 seats, spread across seven states, including Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar. In this city - which has been at the heart of a two-decade Muslim separatist insurgency - security personnel outnumbered voters and protesters clashed with police. As in past years, separatist groups have issued a call to boycott elections and many voters in Srinagar appear to have heeded the call.

Sporadic clashes also erupted in the state, West Bengal, a stronghold of leftist parties. Police say at least one person was killed there, in election related violence.

With the fourth round of polling, voting has been completed in a large part of the country. The last round will be held next week. Then the focus shifts to the counting of votes on May 16th.

The release of exit polls is banned until voting is completed. With neither the Congress Party nor the BJP expected to get a majority, both are scrambling to woo potential allies to cobble together a coalition. But the political scene is fluid, with many smaller groups not indicating which side they will support.

Among them is the Communist Party of India (Marxist). A top party leader, Sitaram Yechury, says the party opposes supporting the Congress Party, but their final position will only be known after votes are counted.

"All these are matters that need to be discussed only after the 16th, when we know the actual arithmetic which comes out of these results," said Yechury.

India's elections are held in phases because millions of security personnel and officials need to be moved around the country to organize polling for more than 700-million voters.

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