GAUHATI: Hundreds of thousands of people in long-winding lines voted Wednesday in the insurgency-wracked remote northeast of India in the second phase of the county’s national elections.
The multiphase voting across the country runs until May 12, with results for the 543-seat lower house of parliament announced May 16.
The main Hindu opposition, with strong momentum on promises of a surge in economic growth, appears to be leading the race to wrest power from the Congress party after 10 years in power.
More than 30 groups in the northeast have been fighting for decades for independence from India or wide autonomy in the region.
Porters carrying voting machines and government forces trekked for hours or flew by helicopters in the past week to reach several mountaintop polling centers.
More than 5 million people were eligible to vote Wednesday in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland and Meghalaya, which border China, Bhutan, Myanmar and Bangladesh.
“Conducting elections in a rugged state like Arunachal Pradesh is a mammoth exercise. Starting April 2, we have carried out 90 helicopters sorties to ferry men and materials to polling stations not otherwise accessible,” said D. J. Bhattacharya, an election official.
Arunachal Pradesh is also claimed by China, but the decades-old border dispute between India and China is not a direct election issue. The giant neighbors, who fought a bloody war in 1962, have been holding talks to settle the dispute since the 1980s.
Narendra Modi, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, said while campaigning in the state in February that India did not want a war with China, but that his government would be prepared to deal with what he called China’s possible expansionist designs.
“No power in this world can snatch away our territory,” he said.
However, people in remote areas of Arunachal Pradesh said a regular food supply, proper roads and access to education and health care were their main concerns. They complained that they have seen little development in the area since India’s independence from Britain in 1947.
“There are many parts spread over five or six districts where people have to still depend on air drops of essential food items for survival. These are the real election issues,” said one resident, Azing Pertint.
Thousands of police and paramilitary forces guarded voting stations in Manipur state where dozens of insurgent groups are active.
Stability is also an election issue in neighboring Nagaland where the government has been engaged in peace talks with a leading Naga rebel group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, for 17 years with no solution in sight.
“The Nagas are looking for maximum autonomy,” said Nchumbemo Lotha, a student.