Brisk polling was on Monday witnessed in the elections to the Assemblies of Punjab and Uttarakhand that were by and large peaceful.
According to the Election Commission, the turnout in Punjab could cross 77 per cent, while poll percentage in Uttarakhand was expected to be around 70 per cent. The turnout in the State till 5 p.m. was 65 per cent, the poll panel said.
The key elections in Punjab and Uttarakhand, which were being ruled by National Democratic Alliance governments, will decide the fate of 1,866 candidates including Prakash Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal, Amarinder Singh of the Congress in Punjab and B.C. Khanduri of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttarakhand.
Polling began on a dull note due to the morning chill in both the States but picked up as the day progressed. Long queues of voters, including large number of women, were seen at the polling stations.
Barring minor skirmishes in Ludhiana, Bathinda and Amritsar in Punjab, polling in the two states was by and large peaceful, officials said. In Ludhiana, BJP Yuva Morcha General Secretary Sanjay Kapoor received minor injuries in a clash.
While there are 1,078 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, Mr. Singh, the State Congress chief, claimed the Dera Sacha Sauda sect, headquartered in Haryana’s Sirsa, was supporting his party.
“The Dera is supporting the Congress. The message (from the Dera) has reached the premis (followers) and they are supporting the Congress. 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, Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Badal said that the 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.
In Uttarakhand, nearly 70 per cent of the 63-lakh-strong electorate exercised their franchise, state Chief Election Officer Radha Raturi said.
Expressing optimism, Mr. Khanduri, who is the BJP’s Chief Ministerial candidate in Uttarakhand, said, “There is very good response (from the people 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.”
Mr. 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, the 84-year-old Mr. Badal said,”Whatever the Congress people say, 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 on include Raninder Singh (Samana), former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehra), former Punjab top cop P.S. Gill (Moga), former Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister D.S. Guru (Bhadaur) and former SGPC chief Bibi Jagir Kaur (Bholath).
Earlier, the Badals including the Chief Minister and Mr. Sukhbir arrived together and cast vote in Badal village.
However, the 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 the SAD winning 49 and the BJP 19. The Congress had got 44 seats and remaining five seats went to the Independents.
In Uttarakhand, Mr. 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 Mr. Khanduri, Mr. 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, the Bahujan Samaj Party with 8 and the Uttarakhand Kranti Dal with 3 while there were three independents.