Voting for the by-election to Pandharpur-Mangalvedha assembly constituency in Maharashtra' Solapur district began at 7:00 am today amid the surge in COVID-19 cases in the state and the strict restrictions imposed by the government to control the spread of the virus.
The ruling Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are in a direct fight in this bypoll, which was necessitated following the death NCP legislator Bharat Bhalke due to post-COVID complications in November last year.
The NCP has fielded Bhagirath Bhalke, the late MLA's son, against BJP candidate Samadhan Autade, who had contested the 2019 assembly election as an independent and the 2014 polls on Shiv Sena ticket.
"The voting process is underway. We are yet to receive the voting percentage of the first two hours, but as per the preliminary analysis, six to seven per cent voting has taken place in the constituency," returning officer Gajajan Gurav said.
Additional Superintendent of Police (ASP) Atul Zende said the polling will conclude at 7:00 pm.
"So far, no big voter turnout has been witnessed outside the polling booths. But it is expected that people will come out to vote later in the day," he said.
"Adequate police bandobast has been put in place to ensure that all social distancing norms are followed," Zende added.
The district administration said that several voters above 80 years of age, divyangs and those who work in essential services had exercised their franchise through postal ballots.
"Polling for these people was held on April 13, 14 and 15 through postal ballots facility and a total of 3,252 postal ballots were received," an official from the district administration said.
There are 1,785 divyang voters and 13,689 voters who are above 80 years of age, he added.
"But those above 80 years of age and divyangs, who could not exercise their franchise through postal ballots, can visit the polling station and cast their votes today," the official said.
There are a total of 3,40,889 registered voters in the assembly constituency.
Political observers feel that this bypoll will prove to be a litmus test for the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) allies- Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress- three ideologically different parties that have been sharing power in the state for the last one-and-a-half years.