SRINAGAR, India (AP) — A major day of voting in the world’s biggest elections was marred by violence Thursday as suspected rebels killed four paramilitary soldiers and three polling officials who were traveling on buses after conducting balloting in two Indian states.
Maoist insurgents ambushed one of the buses near Shikaripada, a village in eastern Jharkhand state, and fatally shot four paramilitary soldiers and two polling officials carrying voting machines, said Anurag Gupta, a state police spokesman. Other details were not immediately available.
Suspected rebels also fatally shot an Indian poll official and wounded four other people in an attack on another bus in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir in the north.
With 814 million eligible voters, India is voting in phases over six weeks, with results expected May 16. Thursday’s violence came as millions of people turned out in 11 states for the second-biggest day of voting in the election.
Voting covered 117 parliamentary seats across 11 states, many heavily populated. These included Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the capital, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan, which are crucial for determining the winner between the governing Congress party and Hindu nationalist opposition.
In Kashmir, police said the deadly attack also wounded a poll officer, two paramilitary soldiers and a policeman. The district is about 65 kilometers (40 miles) south of Srinagar, the largest city in India-controlled Kashmir.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of protesters hurled rocks at polling stations in the disputed Himalayan territory and shouted “Down with India!”
Government forces used tear gas and wooden batons to disperse the protesters, but there was no disruption of the voting, police said.
Nine paramilitary soldiers, three policemen and a polling officer were injured in an attack by protesters in the Anantnag constituency, police said.
More than 28 percent of the 1.3 million eligible voters cast their ballots in the troubled region, said Umang Narula, an Election Commission official.
Indian Kashmir elects only six members of the 543-member Indian Parliament, but voting there will take place over several days due to security concerns.
Rebels and separatist politicians have urged people to boycott the vote to show that they do not recognize India’s sovereignty. More than a dozen rebel groups have been fighting for Kashmir’s independence from India or merger with Pakistan since 1989.
Thursday’s protests spread to nearly two dozen towns and villages in the region.
Aqib Ahmed, a young Kashmiri, said he couldn’t remain blind to Indian atrocities against Kashmiris. “So I am not voting,” he said.
However, Abdul Ahad, 50, said the people were facing multiple issues in the region. “I am voting in the hope that the issue of development for progress is taken care of,” he said.
The main Hindu opposition Bharatiya Janata Party went into the election with strong momentum on promises of a surge in economic growth. Early polls suggest there is deep dissatisfaction with the governing Congress party’s 10 years in power.
Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, on Thursday filed his nomination papers for contesting the parliamentary elections from the northern holy city of Varanasi.
“I am humbled by the love showered by the people of this city on me. I wish to live up to the expectation of the people,” said Modi, 63. Supporters rained flowers down on his motorcade as he waved to them and bowed with folded hands.