Around 1.76 crore voters are expected to cast their franchise on Monday to choose representative from among 1078 candidates, including two Chief Ministerial aspirants Parkash Singh Badal and Amarinder Singh, in fray for 117 assembly seats in Punjab where polling began this morning.

In view of the early morning chill, voting began on a dull note at 19,841 polling stations across 22 districts of Punjab.

Prominent candidates whose fate would be sealed today include the Chief Minister from his traditional Lambi Assembly seat, his predecessor Amarinder Singh from Patiala city, their sons Sukhbir Singh Badal (Jalalabad) and 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).

The Chief Minister is scheduled to cast his vote at a polling station in Lambi constituency.

A total of 70972, including 225 paramilitary force personnel have been deployed to conduct the elections which began at 8 AM and would continue till 5 PM.

At least 2627 video cameras and 554 digital cameras have been installed at polling booths. Around 203 polling stations will be using live web-casting.

Of the polling stations, 2718 have been identified hyper sensitive and 6379 as sensitive.

Ludhiana East (16), Patiala rural (13) and Jalalabad (14) are the assembly constituencies where maximum number of contestants are in the fray. The least number of contestants are in Attari (4).

Out of the 1,078 candidates in fray 417, including 45 women, are Independents. At the last hustings in 2007, after scrutiny and withdrawal there were a total of 1,055 candidates, including 56 women, in fray.

The ruling SAD-BJP alliance, the Congress and BSP are contesting all the 117 Assembly seats. Newly-formed Punjab People’s Party is contesting 92 while SAD (Amritsar) headed by former IPS officer Simranjit Singh Mann is contesting 57 seats.

The SAD has put up candidates on 94 seats which include 10 women while the BJP is contesting the remaining 23 seats, which includes three women.

The Congress has fielded 11 women while the BSP has fielded six women.

Most of the 117 assembly seats will witness a triangular contest between the ruling SAD—BJP alliance, the main opposition Congress and the Sanjha Morcha which includes the Left and People’s Party of Punjab (PPP) led by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal’s estranged nephew Manpreet.

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 Ramuwalia (Mohali, SAD), former Industries Minister and senior BJP leader Manoranjan Kalia (Jalandhar) and former SGPC Chief Jagir Kaur (Bholath, SAD).

The maximum number of 16 candidates each is in three constituencies of Ludhiana East, Jalalabad, Patiala Rural while the least number of four candidates are in fray in Attari (SC).

In the 2007 general elections, 76 per cent of the 1.67 crore voters had sealed the fate of 1,043 candidates against 65 per cent of the 1.58 crore voters sealing the fate of 923 candidates in the 2002 elections.

The security deposit of 798 candidates was forfeited in the 2007 polls which returned the SAD—BJP alliance to power with SAD winning 49, BJP 19, Congress 44 and remaining five seats going to the Independents.

Earlier, in the 2002 polls the Congress had returned to power winning 62 seats. SAD won 41 seats, its alliance partner BJP three, CPI two and Independents won nine seats. The security of 655 candidates was forfeited in these polls.

Of the major contestants, the SAD had got a vote share of 37.09 per cent in 2007 as against 31.08 per cent in 2002. Its alliance partner BJP got a vote share of 8.28 per cent in 2007 against 5.67 per cent in 2002.

The Congress had got a vote share of 40.90 per cent in 2007 as compared with 35.81 per cent in 2002.

The vote share of 431 Independent candidates in the 2007 polls reduced to 6.82 per cent from 11.27 per cent secured by 274 candidates in the 2002 general assembly elections.

The counting of votes will take place on March 6.

Voting begins in Uttarakhand

Polling commenced n 70 Assembly constituencies in Uttarakhand amid tight security with over 60 lakh voters expected to exercise their franchise in the single-phased elections.

Over 63 lakh electorates will decide the fate of 788 candidates with the top contenders from the ruling BJP and Congress contesting all the 70 seats.

Top state leaders, including chief minister B C Khanduri from Kotdwar, former chief minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank from Doiwala, Leader of Opposition Harak Singh Rawat from Rudraprayag and PCC chief Yashpal Arya from Baajpur seats will try their luck at the polls.

Polling commenced at 0800 hrs and would end at 1700 hrs, Uttarakhand Chief Electoral Officer Radha Raturi said.

She said elaborate arrangements have been made for smooth conduct of polling and all the personnel deployed in high-0altitude areas have been provided with sleeping bags, snow-boot and jackets.

An Indian Airforce helicopter has also been stationed at Sarsawa as part of rescue efforts to meet with any eventuality, Raturi added.

She said 9744 polling booths have been set up across the state out of which 1794 stations have been declared as “sensitive” and 1252 as “hyper-sensitive“.

A total of 75 companies of Central paramilitary force besides 10,000 home guards from Uttar Pradesh, 2000 home guards from Himachal Pradesh and 10,000 personnel from Uttarakhand Police have been deployed for the polls.

Ms. Raturi said nearly Rs 1.40 crore in cash has so far been seized in various parts of the state.

Apart from it, nearly 14,000 litres of liquor was also seized during the period, she said, adding 103 cases of violation of election code of conduct were also registered against various candidates in the state.

All government, non-government offices, schools, colleges, industrial establishments and shops have been asked to remain closed on Monday, the official said.