Image: Armed guards at voting station
Sasanka Sen  /  AP
Armed guards protect a voting station in Ranchi, India, on Thursday.
updated 4/23/2009 1:37:31 PM ET 2009-04-23T17:37:31

A brutal heat wave sweeping much of India, together with new acts of violence, marred the second round of voting Thursday in the country's month-long election, keeping millions away from the polls.

Turnout, initially high as voters headed to polling stations early, slowed to a trickle as summertime temperatures touched 111 degrees Fahrenheit. The intense heat caused the death of one election official and hospitalization of another in the eastern state of Orissa, said Prabhakar Sahu, a spokesman for the election commission.

"The heat wave is so intense how can one go out?" said Suresh Sharma, an engineer from the northern city of Allahabad. "I wanted to cast my vote, but I fear if I go I may fall ill."

The low numbers were expected to further confuse an election already dominated by a range of regional and caste-based parties and without any dominant central issues.

Polls indicate neither the Congress party, which leads the governing coalition, nor the main opposition, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, will win enough seats in the 543-seat lower house of Parliament to rule on their own.

That means the election will likely leave India with a shaky coalition government cobbled together from across the political spectrum — a situation giving the next prime minister little time to deal with a growing number of challenges.

Those problems include the threat of violence posed by Maoist rebels, who have threatened to kill citizens who participate in the election, which they dismiss as a "fake exercise."

17 died in violence last week
Voting was relatively peaceful after attacks that left at least 17 dead marred last week's vote, but the threat was enough to deter many — particularly after rebels bombed a jeep carrying election officials.

Thursday's attack on poll officials in Jharkhand state, a stronghold of the communist guerrillas who have fought for decades for the rights of the poor, wounded a magistrate and a police officer, state spokesman S.P. Pradhan said. The attackers then fled.

Separately, nearly 20 suspected rebels burned four jeeps loaded with voting machines and other election materials outside a polling station in the state, said police superintendent Navin Kumar Singh.

Many in the state said the threats persuaded them not to vote.

"I don't want to annoy them. They can harm me and my business," said Anil Agarwal, a businessman in the town of Giridh. Officials said turnout in Jharkhand was about 50 percent, and only 45 percent in the neighboring state of Bihar.

In Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, turnout was just 43 percent, said Anuj Kumar Bishnoi, the chief electoral officer.

High turnout in Andhra Pradesh
The exception to the trend was the southern state of Andhra Pradesh where turnout was 65 percent. Much of this was attributed to the debut foray into politics by the region's biggest film star.

Venkateswara Rao, a businessman, said he decided to vote for the first time to support Chiranjeevi, a superstar of regional language Telugu films, who uses just one name.

"I am inspired by the presence of Chiranjeevi. I want him and his party to win," Rao said as he waited for his turn to cast his ballot.

Millions have turned out for Chiranjeevi's rallies that have resembled frenzied rock concerts.

Voting is being conducted in five phases and is to be completed on May 13. The results are expected on May 16. With more than 700 million voters, India normally holds staggered elections for logistic and security reasons.

Still, not everyone was deterred by the scorching sun.

"Heat or no heat, (voting) is my right and I should exercise it," said 70 year-old Mohammed Fasiullah, a retired teacher from the northern town of Srawasti. "In April one expects a heat wave. What's strange about this?"

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: India takes to the polls

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  1. An Indian policeman fires tear smoke canisters at Kashmiri Muslim protesters during a procession in Srinagar on Friday, April 24. Kashmir's main separatist alliance appealed to the people of the region to boycott India's general election, prompting authorities to place two separatist leaders under house arrest. The decision by the All Parties Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, which represents nearly a dozen political, social and separatist groups, comes after the United Jihad Council asked the separatist alliance to support its call to shun the poll. The decision triggered protests and clashes. (Farooq Khan / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Paramilitary soldiers escort a man injured when angry protesters threw stones at him because they thought he was a soldier in their midst during a protest rally in Srinigar against Indian general elections. (Dar Yasin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Kashmiri protesters prepare to throw stones and pieces of bricks at Indian policemen who stopped an anti-election procession in Srinagar. (Fayaz Kabli / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. People wait to attend an election campaign rally to be addressed by Rahul Gandhi, Indian parliamentarian and son of the chief of India's ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi. The dust was kicked up by Gandhi's helicopter in Purulia, about 195 miles north of Kolkata in eastern India. (Parth Sanyal / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. People attend an campaign rally addressed by Rahul Gandhi, Indian parliamentarian and son of the chief of India's ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, in Purulia, in eastern India. (Parth Sanyal / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Polling officials complete paperwork before electronic voting machines are transferred into safekeeping at Mundera, about 9 miles from Allahabad. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Agents of a political party check the names and details in the voters list outside a polling booth in Bangalore. (Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Security personnel look on at the site of a landmine blast in Champaran district, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. An Indian woman casts her vote at a polling station in the Muslim dominated town of Mukalmua, near Guwahati. (Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. People line up to cast their votes at a polling station in Sonapur, about 31 miles from Guwahati, the major city of India's northeastern state of Assam. (Utpal Baruah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. An Assam Police officer stands guard where Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cast his vote at a polling station in Guwahati. (Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A Hindu holy man, center, prepares to cast his vote in Ayodhya, India. (Gurinder Osan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Indian women queue to cast their vote at a polling station in the Muslim dominated town of Mukalmua, near Guwahati, India. The election has been staged over five phases due to the enormous number of voters and security requirements. (Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Nishamoni Das, 85, is carried to a polling station to cast her ballot in Puri, in India's eastern Orissa state. (Jayanta Shaw / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A polling official, hands seen left, marks the index finger of a woman voter with indelible ink before allowing her to proceed to cast her vote inside a polling booth in Allahabad. (Rajesh Kumar Singh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Indian women look on as they queue to cast their vote at a polling station in Mukalmua, near Guwahati. The last phase of voting is to be conducted on May 13, the results of which are to follow a few days after. (Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A young Indian boy moves to hang up flags displaying contender Rahul Gandhi near a polling station in Mukalmua, near Guwahati. (Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Voters cross the Chenab valley on a cable car to cast their ballot in Doda, about 175 km (109 miles) north of Jammu, during the second phase of the country's general election. (Amit Gupta / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh, along with his wife Gursharan Kaur, leaves a polling booth after casting their votes in Dispur Government Higher Secondary School during the second phase of Lok Sabha election in Guwahati city, northeast India. Dr. Manmohan Singh, is a Rajya Sabha MP from Assam state. (EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Assam Police officers stand guard outside a polling station where Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was to vote in Guwahati, India. (Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. People queue to vote at a polling booth in Gaya, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar on Thursday. Suspected rebels attacked a polling station in Gaya district, killing two security officials, the area's Deputy Inspector General Anupama Nilokar said. Hundreds of thousands of people went to polling stations to start the world's biggest democratic elections. The monthlong process is expected to yield no clear winner to lead India as it grapples with global economic malaise. (Saurabh Das / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Villagers presently living in relief camps hold their voter's identity cards while waiting to cast their votes outside a polling booth at Badimunda village in Kandhamal district of Orissa state. (Biswaranjan Rout / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Farmers check their names in a voter list put up outside a polling center in Dorli village, southwest of Nagpur city in the eastern Indian state of Maharashtra. Indians voted in the first stage of a staggered general election on Thursday with polls showing the main national parties may struggle to form a stable coalition. (Punit Paranjpe / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Security personnel stand guard at a polling booth in Madangundi village, north of the eastern Indian city of Ranchi. (Parth Sanyal / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. A Muslim man prepares to cast his vote by using an electronic voting machine at a polling booth in Gaya. (Saurabh Das / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A policeman gestures threateningly towards voters breaking a queue, at a polling station on the outskirts of Hyderabad. (Mahesh Kumar A. / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Polling station in Varanasi, located in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. (Manish Swarup / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Veiled Muslim women wait behind the men outside a booth to cast their votes in Varanasi. (Adnan Abidi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. An Indian election officer marks the finger of a voter with ink during the first phase of polling. (Prakash Singh / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Election officers in Varanasi seal electronic voting machine at the end of the first phase of polling. (Manish Swarup / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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