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Himachal polls: Over 50 lakh voters to exercise their franchise on Thursday; Congress, BJP to battle it out in all 68 seats

The stage is set for the single-phase polls on sixty-eight Assembly seats in Congress-ruled Himachal Pradesh on Thursday.

Reported by: Agencies, Shimla [ Updated: November 08, 2017 23:37 IST ]
File Photo
File Photo

The stage is set for the single-phase polls on sixty-eight Assembly seats in Congress-ruled Himachal Pradesh on Thursday.

The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will lock horns in all 68 constituencies with 337 candidates including 62 MLAs in the fray, where the saffron party is determined to take power.

Officials said everything was in place for a smooth conduct of the polling in 7,525 booths.

A total of 50.25 lakh electorate, including 19 lakh women and 14 transgenders, will decide the fate of 337 candidates including 19 women. The vote count will be held on December 18 along with those of Gujarat.

The CPI-M has fielded candidates on 14 seats while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which made its debut in the hill state in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, has preferred to stay away.  

Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, 10 ministers, eight Chief Parliamentary secretaries, Deputy Speaker Jagat Singh Negi, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and over a dozen former ministers are among those who have thrown their hat in the ring.

Political observers say the contest between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is neck and neck as there is no clear wave in favour of any party.

It is literally a do-or-die battle for both the Chief Ministerial faces. Both are struggling for their political survival.

One is veteran Congress leader and incumbent Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, 83, who is pushing hard to get to the helm for a seventh time. 

The other is the BJP's Prem Kumar Dhumal, 73, who is making a strong bid to ensure the party's win with a record margin to silence his detractors within the party.

For almost two decades, both the parties in the state have fought almost every assembly and Lok Sabha polls under their leadership.

"This time, Virbhadra Singh is fighting on two fronts -- one is to establish his son Vikramaditya Singh, who is contesting his maiden assembly election, and the second is to ensure the party's repeat as he forced the Congress to announce him as the Chief Ministerial candidate despite all odds," a political observer told IANS.

For Dhumal, it's simply the battle for "self-survival" after facing a humiliating defeat in the 2012 assembly polls. Since then, he was almost marginalised by the BJP faction led by Union Health Minister J.P. Nadda.

After thwarting foes within, Virbhadra Singh donned the battle gear much ahead of his arch rival Dhumal, whose name was cleared by the BJP as its Chief Ministerial candidate just days earlier.

Interestingly, both Virbhadra Singh and Dhumal are seeking re-election from new seats and that is not going to be easy for them.

The Congress leader is in the fray from Arki in Solan district, a BJP pocket borough that he chose himself. Dhumal is contesting from Sujanpur, the seat he was asked to contest from.

Virbhadra Singh, who knew the assembly poll was a vote on the performance of his five-year-old government, single-handedly toured the state aggressively. 

In the campaigning, Virbhadra Singh, popularly known as ‘Raja Saab' as he was born into the erstwhile princely state of Bushahr, has no qualms about folding his hands and bowing his head before commoners when it comes to seeking votes.

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi held only three election meetings on a single day just a day before the campaigning ended.

But the BJP, desperate to win, lined up its entire top leadership in the campaigning.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent three days in campaigning. So did President Amit Shah and Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, J.P. Nadda, Smriti Irani and Thaawar Chand Gehlot.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also campaigned to woo the electorate.

From the Congress, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who is known for his "royal ways" owing to his erstwhile Patiala royalty and related to ‘Raja Saab', campaigned in the state for two days.

Besides 17,850 personnel of police and Home Guards and 65 companies of central paramilitary force have been deployed, Chief Electoral Officer Pushpender Rajput said. 

Elaborate arrangements have been made for ensuring free and fair polls and29 general, three police, 22 Expenditure Observers and 71 Assistant Expenditure Observers, 1,561 Micro Observers, besides, 193 Sector Magistrate and 789 Sectors officers have also been deployed throughout the state. 

Web-casting would be used in 2,307 polling stations in the state for live monitoring of polling activities in the state by ECI and polling would be held from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm, the CEO said. 

He said the state has 100 per cent Photo Identity Card (EPIC) holders and 7525 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) are being used. 

VVPAT machines are being used for the first time in this Vidhan Sabha Election and 10 per cent of total EVMs and VVPATs have been kept in reserve. 

The Election Commission has also allowed the electors to cast their vote by producing any one document out of the 12 identity documents. 

He said 983 polling stations had been declared vulnerable and 399 as critical to ensure free and fair elections in the State. 

The maximum numbers of vulnerable polling stations are 297 in Kangra district and minimum two in Kinnaur district, he added.

He said the Hikkim polling station in Lahaul and Spiti Assembly Constituency, which is situated at a maximum height of 14567 feet, has 194 voters while Ka polling booth in Kinnaur has minimum of six voters.

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