Braving the cold wave sweeping across Punjab, more than 75 per cent voters today thronged the polling booths to exercise their franchise, as well elect 117 members of the state Assembly. According to the Election Commission website, 74 per cent voters had cast their ballots across over 22,000 polling stations in the state till 1930 hrs.
However, Punjab Chief Electoral Officer V K Singh said the polling percentage is expected to cross over 75 per cent mark. In 2012, 78 per cent turnout was recorded in Punjab Assembly polls. An Election Commission official said that only 47 EVMs were malfunctioned and replaced out of 22,615 deployed in the state. Out of total 6,668 VVPATs deployed, only 187 were replaced, he added.
Voters in impressive numbers started queueing up outside the polling stations, right from the start of polling at 0800 hrs in the morning. Barring a few incidents of minor clashes at some places, the polling was by and large peaceful in Punjab. An Akali worker was injured in a clash with Congress workers at Killanwali village in Lambi constituency. In Tarn Taran, a Congress worker suffered bullet injuries after a SAD sarpanch allegedly opened fire outside a polling booth.
Turban of AAP candidate Gurpartap Singh Khushalpur came off during the clash between Congress and AAP workers in Kalanaur area of Dera Baba Nanak constituency. A report from Sangrur said that two AAP workers were allegedly beaten up by Congress candidate Dalvir Singh Goldy and his supporters at a booth in Sultanpur village, falling under the Dhuri Assembly constituency. SAD candidate and former Army chief Gen J J Singh (Patiala city), former finance minister and Congress candidate from Bathinda urban Manpreet Singh Badal, AAP MP and party candidate from Jalalabad Bhagwant Mann, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, his deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal were among the early voters.
Mr Manpreet and the Badal family cast their votes at Badal village and Bhagwant Mann exercised his franchise in Mohali. Congress Chief Ministerial candidate Capt Amarinder Singh and his family cast their votes in Patiala City this afternoon. Congress star campaigner and party candidate from Amritsar East Navjot Singh Sidhu, along with his wife and son, exercised his franchise at a polling booth in Amritsar North, at around 1145 hrs. Cabinet Minister Bikram Singh Majithia, brother-in-law of Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, also cast his vote a a polling booth in Majithia assembly constituency.
There are about two crore voters- precisely 1,98,79069 - in the state where 1,145 candidates- including a third gender and 81 women - are in the fray to pick up members for the 117 member state Assembly. There are over six lakh first time voters in the state this time. Extraordinary security bandobust has been clamped in the state to foil any bid to disturb the poll process. Sanour constituency has 18 candidates. Khem Karan and Fategarh Sahib have five each.
Ghanaur is seeing four women trying their luck at the hustings. The ruling Shiromani Akali Dal has fielded 94 candidates while its coalition partner Bharatiya Janata Party has pitched 23 in the fray where 468 hopefuls are from registered but unorganised parties,including AAP. Congress fielded 116 aspirants and 110 have been put up by the Bahujan Samaj Party.The Communist Party of India has put up 23 and there are 304 independent candidates. There are about 22,615 polling stations in the state where Lambi constituency is witnessing straight contest. Gill ( SC) is the largest assembly segment area wise.
There is a triangular contest among the ruling SAD-BJP combine, Congress and AAP. While the Congress has fielded its candidates on all the 117 constituencies, the SAD is fighting on 94 seats while 23 are being contested by BJP. The Aam Aadmi Party has fielded its nominees on 112 Assembly segments and left five seats for Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) of the Bains brothers. The campaign, which ended on Thursday, was marred by twin blasts at Maur Mandi in Bathinda on January 31 in which six persons lost their lives and several others were injured. The ruling SAD-BJP alliance is battling anti-incumbency after a decade in power.
Corruption, drug menace, Sutlej-Yamuna Link canal, law and order, development, agrarian crisis and sacrilege of holy books were the main issues during the election campaign. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal is seeking re-election from his traditional Lambi constituency where he is facing a stiff challenge from Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee chief Capt Amarinder Singh and AAP's Jarnail Singh. With AAP MP Bhagwant Mann and Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu, grandson of late Punjab CM Beant Singh in the fray, SAD President and Deputy CM Sukhbir SinghBadal is battling hard to retain Jalalabad. In Patiala Urban, Capt Amariner Singh is being opposed by SAD candidate and retired Army chief General J J Singh and AAP's Dr Balbir Singh.
AAP is contesting the state polls for the first time. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP chief Amit Shah and Union Ministers Rajnath Singh and Arun Jaitley were among those who campaigned for the candidates of BJP and its allies. For SAD, Parkash Singh Badal and his deputy Sukhbir, campaigned extensively.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi led the party stumping in the state, while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal was among the star campaigners for the AAP. After initial dithering, Rahul declared Amarinder Singh as the Congress' chief ministerial face. BSP chief Mayawati also addressed a number of rallies for her party candidates in the state. —UNI