Braving snow and chill in the higher reaches and enjoying a bright sunny day in the plains, over 65 per cent of the voters in Uttarakhand exercised their franchise for electing representatives to the 70-member Vidhan Sabha on Monday. Counting of votes will be taken up on March 6.
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“The polling percentage may go up by a per cent or two as data is still coming in,” Anil Chandola, Additional Director Information, said at 9 p.m.
Mamta, a bride in Pokhri of Chamoli district, created history of sorts by stopping her ‘doli' (palanquin) at a polling booth to cast her vote.
103-year-old Abdul cast his vote in Tehri. Dozens of voters reached the polling booths as early as last evening in the snow-bound Mukhba and Harsil areas of Uttarkashi. Border Roads Organisation and State PWD personnel tried to keep the snow-covered roads open to the public. The greater feat was by those men and women who trekked across the snow to cast their votes.
The enthusiasm amongst first time-voters was remarkable. “We can elect our MLA or MP now,” chirped 18-year-old Seema and Meenakshi at the Laxman Vidyalaya polling centre in Dehra Dun.
Hundreds of sadhus lined up in Haridwar to cast their votes. “We must cast our votes and not simply indulge in criticising others,” said Swami Hari Giri and other holy men.
The entire exercise was well managed without any untoward incident. Senior officers could be seen rushing to resolve tension at a few places. The polite dedication with which the security and polling staff helped the “guests” exercise their right underscored the State's adherence to the motto “Atithi Devo Bhava” (Guest is equal to god).
Voting, which began on a low note, picked up after 11 a.m. The electorate's faith in the democratic system was visible in its enthusiasm, though weather hampered a spate of campaign rallies by major parties, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress and, to some extent, the Bahujan Samaj Party.
Top Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Rahul Gandhi and Ghulam Nabi Azad; BJP leaders Nitin Gadkari, Rajnath Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi, Arun Jaitley, party spokespersons Ravi Shankar Prasad and Nirmala Sitaraman and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati camped here throughout the canvassing phase. Yoga exponent Baba Ramdev, social activist Anna Hazare and his team too contributed to building awareness.
Governor Margaret Alva thanked the electorate and officials for the peaceful conduct of the polls.
“There seems to be an edge for the Congress and we will give a good government if [we return],” said State president Yashpal Arya, after casting his vote at Bajpur. Besides Mr. Arya, the Chief-Minister-hopefuls in the Congress are Harak Singh Rawat in Rudraprayag and Indira Hirdeyesh from Haldwani.
Casting his vote in Dehra Dun, Narain Dutt Tiwari, former U.P. Chief Minister, said he felt lucky at 87 and did not mind another few years of steering the State towards greater development. This is not seen as welcome news for Union Minister Harish Rawat, who has been eying the top job of late. It may be mentioned that Mr. Rawat lost the race for the top job to Mr. Tiwari — the high command's choice — in 2002.
For Chief Minister B.C. Khanduri the high voter turnout seemed a good omen. “The people seem to have voted for honesty and I am sure the BJP will win an easy majority… the factual position will however be known on March 6… so keep the fingers crossed,” Mr. Khanduri told The Hindu on the phone after casting his vote in Pauri.
Mr. Khanduri is contesting from Kotdwar. The senior BJP leaders in the fray include the former Chief Minister, Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Matwar Singh Kandari, Prakash Pant and Speaker Harbans Kapoor.