Indians cast ballots Thursday on the biggest day of voting in the country’s weekslong general election, streaming into polling stations even in areas where rebels threatened violence over the plight of India’s marginalized and poor. Nationwide voting began April 7 and runs through May 12, with results for the 543-seat lower house of Parliament to be announced four days later. Among the 13 key states voting Thursday was Chhattisgarh, now the center of India’s four-decade Maoist insurgency. “I want a good life for my baby, security and peace,” said Neha Ransure, a 25-year-old woman who was voting in the Chhattisgarh town of Rajnandgaon despite fears of violence. “The rebels are bad. They kill our soldiers. I don’t go outside of town. It is too dangerous.” Rebels always threaten to disrupt Indian elections, and this year is no different. On Saturday, insurgents killed 14 people in two separate attacks in Chhattisgarh in a campaign to disrupt the polls. The dead consisted of five election officials, five paramilitary soldiers, two bus drivers and two civilians. Last month, rebels in Chhattisgarh killed 15 law enforcement officers and one civilian in their deadliest raid in almost a year.
More than 4,800 people, including about 2,850 civilians, have been killed in rebel roadside bombings, jungle ambushes and hit-and-run raids nationwide since 2008. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called the insurgents India’s biggest internal security threat.
But authorities say that, amid the bloodshed, there are signs that the rebels have waning support — including lines of voters shuffling into polling booths Thursday in Chhattisgarh, the heartland of a rebel campaign that has affected more than a dozen of India’s 28 states.
Despite the insurgents’ calls to boycott the election, 59 percent of voters turned out in Chhattisgarh’s rebel stronghold of Bastar last week. So far, no voting machines have been looted or stolen, police said, after 18 were taken in 2009 elections and 23 in the state’s 2008 assembly polls.