Maoists strike as India votes in epic elections

A Lambadi tribal woman shows her ink marked finger after casting her vote at Rangareddy District on April 16.
Suspected Maoists ambushed Indian border guards in the country’s east Thursday, killing five of them, as the nation voted in the first round of general elections to choose a new federal government, officials said.

An unknown number of attackers first triggered an explosion that forced a bus carrying troops from the Border Security Force to stop in the Latehar district of Jharkhand state, district divisional commissioner Sarvendu Tathagat told CNN. “The jawans (troops) stepped off the bus then and took their positions when they were ambushed by the Maoists,” he said. Five guards have been confirmed dead in the assault so far, according to Tathagat. There were no immediate reports on how many attackers were killed in the gunbattle in what is regarded as a Maoist-beleaguered area. In Chhattisgarh state on Thursday, police were engaged in a shootout with up to 100 Maoists, authorities said. Two federal security officers had so far been confirmed dead and three injured in the gunfight, which followed a Maoist raid on two polling booths, said Dantewada district police chief Rahul Sharma.

ODD POLL STATIONSRegion: Lakshadweep – 105 polling booths here are accessible only by boat Region: Andaman and Nicobar Islands – India’s Andaman-Nicobar group of islands is a 700-km long borough. Commuting in many places on these islands requires 35-40 hours of travel by boat Region: Arunachal Pradesh – Four polling stations — Lumta, Pakke, Mramboo and Upper Modoi Deep — have just 3 voters each – Many polling teams in Tawang, Kurung Kumey, Upper Subanisiri, Upper Siang, Mechuka, Dibang valley, Anjaw, etc, have to walk 3-4 days to reach booths from the nearest helipad/road – The highest polling stations are located at Thinghbu at 12,148 feet, Mago at 12,248 feet and Luguthand at 13,157 feet. They are snow-bound and along the India-China border (Source: India’s election commission)

In a separate attack Thursday, suspected Maoists killed two officers in Gaya in Bihar state, police said. Suspected Maoists launched a series of attacks in eastern India in the run-up to the general elections. About 200 of them raided a Border Security Force base in Bihar state, neighboring Jharkhand, on Wednesday. Earlier this week, suspected Maoists laid siege to a bauxite mine in another eastern Indian state, Orissa. They retreated after an hours-long shootout with federal security. Thursday’s attack came as the country was voting in 124 of the 543 boroughs of the Lok Sabha, or the lower house of the Indian parliament. Latehar is one of the constituencies going to the polls in the first round of voting, of which there are five. Indian general elections, a mammoth exercise covering more than 3 million square kilometers of the planet, run until next month in scattered polling. Watch the logistics of campaigning in India ยป The country currently has 714 million registered voters, up 43 million from the last vote. That election, in 2004, brought the Congress party of Italian-born Sonia Gandhi to power as head of a coalition backed by the communists. More than 1,700 candidates are in the fray for the first phase of voting Thursday, according to the country’s election commission. Two million security personnel are to guard the entire voting process, the commission said. There are apparently no major national issues that Indian political parties are fighting these elections on. Instead, political analysts say, post-poll agreements among groups from the right, left and center will determine which coalition, and in what form, will make up the next government. The Congress party, which currently leads the United Progressive Alliance government, seeks to retain power. But some allies of the United Progressive Alliance have already reached a pre-poll agreement, to the exclusion of the Congress party.

A general election is held every five years in India, a nation of 1 billion-plus people. The vote count, which will be carried out electronically in a single day, is scheduled for May 16, three days after the last round of polling.