A wave of violence erupted in Indian parliamentary elections today as 44 people were killed after guerrillas blew up a police patrol and election boycotters clashed with security forces.
After the third round of balloting in the five-phase election, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's coalition firmed up its lead over Sonia Gandhi's opposition Congress party and was poised to return to power with a parliamentary majority, an exit poll on state-run television indicated.
But the balloting was accompanied by violence, mainly by armed leftist guerrillas continuing their struggle against the upper class they see represented in the government.
Of the 44 people who died today, 34 were policemen, soldiers, election workers and two magistrates. They were killed when at least eight land mines exploded under vehicles carrying them to work at polling stations in Bihar, India's poorest and most lawless province, according to the state's home commissioner, U.N. Panjiar.
"We got over an anxious day," Manohar Singh Gill, India's chief election commissioner, said after polls closed at 5 p.m. "We are into the harder part of the election."
The exit poll telecast on the state-run Doordarshan television said Vajpayee's 22-party coalition would win 191 of the 344 seats for which ballots have been cast so far. The Congress party would win 126 of those seats, according to the three-phase poll based on interviews with 22,000 voters.