Chandigarh/Dehradun, Jan 30: Elections to the assemblies of Punjab and Uttarakhand today recorded a heavy turnout of over 77 and 70 per cent with Akali-BJP combine and BJP locked in a hard battle with Congress to retain power in the two respective states.
While the polling figure in Punjab was expected to cross the 77 per cent mark, voting percentage in Uttaranchal was around 70 per cent, the Election Commission in Delhi said quoting figures furnished the polling authorities in the two states.
Barring stray incidents, the polling in the two states was peaceful, Commission officials said. However, a report from Firozepur in Punjab said that one person died of gunshot injuries during a clash.
The key elections in Punjab and Uttarakhand, where NDA government have been in power, will decide the fate of 1866 candidates including chief ministerial aspirants Prakash Badal, Amarinder Singh and B C Khanduri.
Polling began on a dull note due to the morning chill in both the states but picked as the day progressed. Long queues of voters, including large number of women, were seen at the polling stations.
Earlier, various parties had complained that the cold weather conditions might hamper the turnout.
Minor skirmishes were reported from Ludhiana, Bathinda and Amritsar in Punjab. In Ludhiana, BJP Yuva Morcha General Secretary Sanjay Kapoor received minor injuries in a clash, while some people pelted stones at the office of Sirsa-based Dera Sacha Sauda situated on Amrik Singh Road in Bathinda.
While there are 1078 contestant vying for 117 seats in Punjab, the number of candidates for 70 seats in Uttarakhand is 866. Counting to votes will take place on March 6.
Talking to reporters before leaving for Patiala, state Congress President Amarinder Singh claimed that Dera Sacha Sauda, which had supported the party in the 2007 polls, was backing it again. “This was expected the way Akalis had treated the Dera followers,” he said.
Claiming that there was a “clear wave” in his party's favour, Singh, who is the party's chief ministerial candidate, claimed, “We are winning hands down and as I have said we will cross 70 seats...People of Punjab want to oust the Akalis.”
Over 250 contestants including Singh, his wife and Union Minister Preneet Kaur, had visited the Dera premises at Sirsa and sought blessings from the sect chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh.
After casting his vote in his home constituency Lambi's Badal village, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal said that SAD-BJP would comfortably win on the basis of development during the past five years.
In Punjab with a 1.7 crore electorate, polling took place at 19,841 polling stations across 22 districts. A woman voter died in the polling station compound at Anandpur Sahab, election officials said, adding that as per reports her death was natural and there was no foul play.
Voicing optimism, Khanduri, who is BJP's chief ministerial candidate in Uttarakhand, said, “There is very good response (from the 63-lakh strong electorate for the party). It is a very positive signal and that we feel we will form the government comfortably but again it is for the people to decide.”
Khanduri, who is contesting from Kotdwar seat, said, “I have gone to the town and the village areas and people are coming in large numbers and that's a good signal.”
In Hoshiarpur in Punjab, Union I&B Minister Ambika Soni, after casting her ballot, said the state was hearing for a change the Congress will register a “landslide” victory.
On poll propects, 84-year-old Badal said,”Whatever the Congress people may, it doesn't matter. People know that this government has worked for their betterment and today pro-incumbency wave is sweeping the state.” His son and Deputy, Sukhbir Singh Badal said the people will reject the Congress, which had no agenda for taking Punjab forward.
Prominent candidates whose fate would be sealed today include Raninder Singh (Samana, Congress), former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehra, Cong), former Punjab top cop P S Gill (Moga, Akali Dal), former Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister D S Guru (Bhadaur, Akali) and former SGPC chief Bibi Jagir Kaur (Bholath, Akali).
The other contestants include Manpreet (Gidderbaha and Maur), his father and Badal senior's younger brother Gurdas (Lambi, PPP), and his cousin Mahesh Inder (Lambi, Congress), former Deputy Speaker Bir Devinder Singh (Mohali, PPP), turncoat Balwant Singh Ramoowalia (Mohali, SAD), former Industries Minister and senior BJP leader Manoranjan Kalia (Jalandhar).
Earlier, the Badals including the Chief Minister and Sukhbir arrived together and cast their ballot in Badal village.
However, Badal family's estranged relative and chief of People's Party of Punjab, Manpreet Singh Badal, whose party is also contesting the Punjab polls, was the first to arrive to cast vote in Badal village.
In the 2007 polls, the SAD-BJP alliance came to power with SAD winning 49 and BJP 19. Congress had got 44 seats and remaining five seats went to the Independents.
In Uttarakhand, Khanduri, former Chief Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank and assembly speaker Harbans Kapoor were among the early voters.
The elections will also decide the fate of top state leaders including Khanduri, Nishank from Doiwala, Leader of the Opposition Harak Singh Rawat from Rudraprayag and PCC chief Yashpal Arya from Baajpur seats.
In the outgoing state assembly, the BJP had a strength of 36 members followed by Congress with 20, BSP with 8 and UKD with 3 while there were three independents.
In Ferozepur, an Akali supporter died of gunshot wounds during a clash between congress and Akali workers, said DIG Arpit Shukla.
The teenager Nishan Singh died of gunshot wounds in Piareana village in Ferozepur Rural Assembly constituency. Two other persons were injured in the incident, he said.
Reports of skirmishes between supporters of rival candidates were also received from Ludhiana, Bathinda, Amritsar Central, Abohar and some other districts.
Punjab Chief Electoral Officer Kusumjit Sidhu said the turnout was 77 per cent which might go up marginally as the final figures were yet to be tabulated.
In the 2007 assembly election, the turnout was 75.45 per cent and in ‘02 it was 65.14 per cent.
Other notable candidates whose fate was sealed in EVMs were Sukhbir Singh Badal (Jalalabad), Raninder Singh, son of Amardiner Singh, (Samana), former CM Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehra), ex-top cop P S Gill (Moga) and former SGPC chief Bibi Jagir Kaur (Bholath).
Badal is seeking a fifth-term from his traditional Lambi Assembly constituency and his predecessor Amarinder from from Patiala city.