The seven-phase voting to elect the 17th Lok Sabha began on Thursday, with voters in 91 constituencies across 18 states and two Union territories exercising their franchise. Polling will continue in six more phases until May 19, and the votes will be counted on May 23.

The first phase was the third-biggest in terms of the number of seats, covering more than 14 crore of India’s 90 crore eligible voters. According to the Election Commission, the number of candidates who were contesting in the first phase was 1,279.

Early on Thursday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi encouraged voters to come out in large numbers, and Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah asked people to vote for a “decisive government”. Congress President Rahul Gandhi urged citizens to vote wisely “for the soul of India” and its future. Google marked the beginning of the Indian elections with a doodle.

Voters in parts of Odisha and Arunachal Pradesh and the entire Andhra Pradesh and Sikkim also voted simultaneously to elect their next state Assemblies. In Arunachal Pradesh, voting for Assembly elections took place in all but three constituencies, where the BJP candidates have been elected unopposed. The Assembly elections in remaining seats in Odisha will take place in the next three phases.

The voter turnouts in the states were 63.69% in Uttar Pradesh, 68% in Odisha, 56% in Maharashtra, 50% in Bihar, 57.85% in Uttarakhand, 60% in Telangana, 56% in Chhattisgarh and 66% in Andhra Pradesh and 81% in West Bengal.

In the North East, Sikkim recorded 69% voter turnout, Mizoram 60%, Nagaland 78%, Manipur 78.2%, Tripura 81.8%, Assam 68%, Arunachal Pradesh 66%, and Meghalaya 67.16%.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands recorded 70.67% polling, while Lakshadweep saw 66%. Jammu and Kashmir recorded 54.49% polling for two seats – Jammu and Baramulla.

Voting was not held at four polling stations in Gadchiroli, Maharashtra as election officials could not reach the booths. Maharashtra chief electoral officer said the polling stations fall under Maoist-hit areas and the Election Commission will hold a re-poll at the four polling booths, ANI reported.

Controversies and complaints

In the morning, Bharatiya Janata Party MP Sanjeev Balyan alleged that fake voting could be taking place in his Muzaffarnagar constituency in Uttar Pradesh because election officials were not checking the identities of burqa-clad voters. “If someone comes in a burqa, whether the same person is coming four or five times, how will you check,” Baliyan told the media.

Balyan complained that in some booths, there were no women officers to verify the identities of voters in burqas. The Election Commission, however, rubbished the allegations.

In Jammu and Kashmir, former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti claimed that Border Security Force personnel manhandled a voter at a polling booth in Jammu because he refused to cast his vote for the BJP. National Conference leader Omar Abdullah claimed that the Congress symbol button on electronic voting machines were not working in polling stations in Poonch. The Poonch district election officer acknowledged that there was a problem with the machines earlier in the day, ANI reported.

In Chhattisgarh’s Bastar constituency, suspected Maoists detonated an improvised explosive device in Narayanpur district, PTI reported. There was a blast at a polling booth in Maoist-affected Gadchiroli district of Maharashtra too. There were no casualties in either incident. In a separate incident, two police commandos escorting a poll party were injured in a blast in Etapalli in Gadchiroli.

In Uttar Pradesh’s Kairana constituency, security personnel fired shots in the air when some people allegedly tried to cast vote without voter IDs at a polling station in Shamli around 2 pm, ANI reported. District Magistrate Akhilesh Kumar said the situation was brought under control and voting resumed, according to the Hindustan Times.

In Andhra Pradesh, a worker from the ruling Telugu Desam Party and one from the Opposition YSR Congress were killed in a clash in a village in Tadipatri Assembly constituency, PTI reported. The two parties clashed in other parts of the state, including Eluru in West Godavari district, Jammalamadugu in Kadapa district and Narsaraopet constituency in Guntur district.

The Noida Police refuted social media posts that food packets delivered to personnel at polling booths with “Namo” labeling were politically linked. Election rules ban the presence of any paraphernalia related to parties or candidates within 200 metres of polling booths on voting day.

Less than 1% ballot unit replaced, says EC

The Election Commission said 0.73% ballot units and 0.61% of the control units of electronic voting machines were replaced during the first phase of elections, reported Hindustan Times. The poll body said 1.7% of VVPATs were replaced. This is the first Lok Sabha election where VVPATs have been attached to all voting machines, the poll panel said.

In Andhra Pradesh, there were complaints about technical glitches in voting machines at 50 places, PTI quoted the state’s Chief Electoral Officer Gopal Krishna Dwivedi as saying. He added that technical teams went to the spot to rectify defects. Polling officials replaced machines in Prakasam district after over 100 of them allegedly malfunctioned, reports said. However, the Election Commission said only 43 out of a total of 92,000 EVMs in the state had to be replaced.

YSR Congress Party workers allegedly ransacked EVMs at a polling station in Jandlavaram village of Mydukur mandal. The police dispersed an agitated mob gathered outside the voting station, and polling officials locked it. The police also took two polling agents into custody for allegedly trying to bribe voters at Vemavaram village in Ballikuruva mandal of Prakasam district.

Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu wrote a letter to the Election Commission about malfunctioning EVMs and demanded a re-poll, the Hindustan Times reported. He told the poll body that 30% of the EVMs were not functioning till 10 am.

An MLA candidate, Madhusudhan Gupta of the Jana Sena, was arrested after he smashed an EVM at a polling booth in Anantpur district, ANI reported. In Puthalapattu constituency, a clash broke out between YSR Congress Party and Telugu Desam Party workers, prompting police to use batons to disperse people.

Glitches in voting machines were also reported from several polling stations in Maharashtra. The EVMs were functioning extremely slowly in booth 127 of Gadchiroli-Chimur constituency and booth 147 in Yavatmal-Washim, according to the Hindustan Times. A polling station in Bhandara-Gondiya also reportedly faced such problems.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted photos and tagged users who claimed their names or the names of their relatives were deleted from voter lists. “What is happening EC? Are these elections fair?” Kejriwal tweeted. “Anti-BJP votes deleted all across India. Reports coming from all across India that votes have been deleted on unprecedented scale. Why are all faulty EVM machines seen to be voting always for BJP?” he said in a series of tweets.