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State Assembly Polls Close in India - 2003-02-26

Polls have closed in four Indian states that are choosing state assemblies. At least six people were killed in violence related to the elections. Turnout was high, with more than two-thirds of voters casting ballots in most of the states.

Polling was peaceful in the northern Himachal Pradesh state, but there were reports of sporadic violence in the remote northeastern states of Nagaland, Tripura and Meghalaya.

National political attention is focused on the tiny Himachal Pradesh state, currently ruled by the Bharatiya Janata party, or BJP. The BJP is pitted against the opposition Congress party for control of the state.

In Himachal Pradesh, the BJP hopes to repeat an impressive victory, like the one it scored in the western Gujarat state three months ago. The Congress party wants to unseat the BJP in the same way it did in several state elections held early last year.

Both parties have led high-profile campaigns with Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and opposition Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi joining the battle to woo voters.

Subhash Kashyap, a political analyst at the independent Center for Policy Research, says the election outcome in Himachal Pradesh is significant because it could set the trend for state elections later this year, and for national elections next year.

"Himachal is very important right now, because of the psychological impact it might have," said Subhash Kashyap. "Because after these, several others states will be going to the polls during the year, so it might have a considerable impact on the political psyche of the electorate and of political parties."

The opposition Congress party is the front-runner in three northeastern states holding elections. The ruling Bharatiya Janata party does not have a significant presence in this region.

Police reported sporadic incidents of violence and intimidation of voters from Nagaland and Tripura states.

In Tripura, at least four paramilitary soldiers and a driver were killed in an ambush blamed on rebels who have waged separatist battles for years. In Nagaland, a member of a rebel group was shot dead in a clash with a rival faction.

Tens of thousands of troops patrolled the hilly region where separatist insurgencies are common. Turnout was fairly high despite calls for a boycott of the elections from some of these groups.

Counting of ballots begins Saturday and results should be announced the same day.