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Disappointment after low voter turnout

Richa Bansal
30 April 2009

The third phase of polling of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections held on 30 April in 107 constituencies spread across nine states and two union territories saw an average voter turnout of 49-50 percent, with Mumbai clocking in at 41.24 percent, a record low since 1977, despite the recent Mumbai attacks.

After the third round, 372 constituencies have completed voting and the remaining 177 will go to the polls in the fourth and the fifth phases to be held on 7  May and 13 May respectively. Although both the big parties claimed to have done well after the third phase, the BJP appeared more buoyant, confidently asserting that it would improve its numbers in Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Bihar.

The Mumbai turnout shocked officials and consultants alike as there was expected to be an upsurge in voting after the Mumbai attacks and the numerous star-studded campaigns urging people to vote. Analysts say that the four-day weekend could have played spoiler or perhaps it was Mumbai's way of warning politicians that they had to deliver in order to expect votes - irrespective of apprehensions over terrorism. On the face of it, however, it seems that the apathy of the average Mumbaikar remains unchanged.

CBI withdraws Red Corner Notice against Quattrocchi

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) came in the line of fire once again this week after it removed the Red Corner Notice against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi, bang in the middle of the elections, in the Rs 640,000,000 Bofors payoff case. The decision drew heavy flak from the BJP, which questioned the independence of the CBI, while the Congress claimed that the BJP was "flogging a dead horse".

The decision was challenged in the Supreme Court on Tuesday by advocate Ajay Agrawal and the court deferred the hearing till 8 September after the CBI sought two months to decide further on its course of action.

This is the second time the CBI's credibility has been questioned in these elections (earlier it gave a clean chit to Jagdish Tytler in the 1984 Sikh riots). The Indian Express, which broke the Quattrocchi story, has run consistent editorials on Congress's "unsavoury baggage: its capacity to wreck institutions" (Pratap Bhanu Mehta) and its misplaced "arrogance" in doing so, which will cost it politically. With the "waning credibility" of independent investigative institutions like the CBI, says Justice J S Verma in another editorial in the Express, people resort to extra legal means to vent their frustrations such as the "shocking" incident of a journalist throwing a shoe at the Home Minister.

These tactics prevent the Congress from capitalising on the opposition's weaknesses, says Mehta in his piece, stressing that the party needs to realize that, "in politics, it is not issues, but trust and credibility that are central. If politicians have credibility, they can survive horrendous mistakes; if they don't have credibility, there is a cloud even over their good deeds. An allegiance to strengthening institutions adds to trust and credibility." 

SIT to investigate Modi's role in Gujarat riots

The Gujarat riots are under the scanner again. The Supreme Court on Friday rejected the National Human Rights Commission's (NHRC) plea to shift riot cases outside Gujarat, but instead ordered the setting up of six fast-track courts to hear nine major 2002 riots-related cases in Gujarat on a day-to-day basis and demanded that witnesses be given protection. A bench of Justices Arijit Pasayat and Asok Kumar Ganguly ordered the setting up of courts in Ahmedabad, Anand, Sabarkanta, Mehsana and Gulbarga districts, while the Special Investigation Team (SIT) was asked to ensure witness protection.

Earlier this week, the Supreme Court had also asked the SIT to investigate Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's role in the 2002 post-Godhra communal riots. The SIT was asked to look into the complaint by Jakia Nasim Ahesan, wife of the former Congress MP, Ehsan Jafri, and submit its report in three months.

Anil Ambani chopper sabotage

In an almost Bollywood-style incident this week, a plot to sabotage Reliance chief Anil Ambani's chopper unfolded as aircraft technician Bharat Borge discovered pebbles and mud in the fuel tank. Complicating the mystery, Borge's body was found on the railway tracks a day later, carrying a suicide note, while his family have demanded a CBI probe. Several people have been questioned including Reliance officials. Joint Police Commissioner (Crime) Rakesh Maria claims that a "breakthrough" will come very soon as the investigations are at an advanced stage. Meanwhile, the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani group (ADAG) cancelled its four-year-old maintenance contract with Air Works Indian Engineering that maintains the chopper used by the Reliance group chief. 

Varun gets parole till 14 May

The Supreme Court on Friday extended Varun Gandhi's parole till 14 May, the day after polling ends for the five-phase Lok Sabha elections. Varun, who had been earlier given a parole for two weeks on grounds that he would not make hate speeches against any community, had challenged the invocation of the National Security Act (NSA) by the Uttar Pradesh government against him. He had been arrested for making an inflammatory speech caught on tape against the Muslim community at Pilhibit in Uttar Pradesh, a charge he later denied claiming that the tapes were doctored.

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