A lower than average turnout yesterday during the first of two days of voting in India's election appeared to give an added edge to the attempt by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to make a political comeback.
Balloting started yesterday in 226 election districts, with the rest going to the polls Sunday. The first results, from today's voting, will start coming in Sunday night.
The voting was marred by scattered outbursts of violence that left at least four dead. Bad weather, along with widespread voter apathy, kept the turnout low.
Political observers in New Delhi expected that Gandhi would benefit most from the low turnout because her Congress-I (for Indira) Party has a loyal following that generally goes to the polls to support her no matter what.
Gandhi was the favorite to capture the largest number of seats, but it is unclear whether her party will be strong enough to form a government by itself, or whether it will have to forge a coalition with other parties.
The Janata Party that handed Gandhi a humiliating defeat in 1977 is expected to finish a close second. Its leader is the 71-year-old untouchable, Jagjivan Ram The Lok Dal, a Janata Party breakaway led by Charan Singh, is expected to finish a distant third.
A big question is whether Ram will be able to draw the votes of India's 100 million untouchables that have traditionally gone to Gandhi.
Singh, the 77-year-old caretaker prime minister, appeals mainly to the narrow class of small landowning farmers to which he belongs.
The campaign has been marked by clashes between his supporters and the untouchables. Three of those killed were untouchables who resisted attempts by other castes to force them to vote for a specific candidate, United News of India reported.