NEW DELHI — Police fired on mobs and rival party workers fought in the streets in eastern India on Saturday during the first round of state elections expected to consolidate the power of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
At least 20 people were reported killed and more than 1,000 arrested. The violence occurred mainly in Bihar, India's most lawless state, notorious for criminal politics and Mafia-style gangs.
The deaths pushed the nationwide toll during campaigns and voting to at least 45 as four of the 11 states voted Saturday for new assemblies. Additional voting is scheduled on Tuesday in 10 states.
The trouble in Bihar broke out despite the presence of tens of thousands of police and troops at polling booths throughout the state. In some areas, security forces had orders to shoot troublemakers on sight.
The United News of India news agency reported that at least 20 people were killed and 50 were hurt in Bihar on Saturday. No major incidents were reported outside Bihar.
25 Killed Earlier
At least 25 people, including 12 candidates, were killed earlier in six states during three weeks of campaigning.
India's deputy election commissioner, V. Ramakrishnan, told reporters in New Delhi that the voting was "by and large peaceful" in most states, but he was awaiting detailed reports from Bihar. Election officials at three polling booths in Bihar were arrested for tampering with the paper ballots, he said.
At stake Saturday were assembly seats in 938 constituencies in four states--all of Madhya Pradesh and parts of Maharashtra, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. About 50% of the 118 million eligible voters cast ballots, choosing from nearly 10,000 candidates, United News said.
In the final voting phase next Tuesday, another 210 million people are eligible to vote in the rest of Maharashtra, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Seven other states and the federal territory of Pondicherry, a former French colony, will also vote.