63 % turnout in Punjab rural polls

Special Correspondent
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Congress alleges booth capturing by Akali Dal workers

Remains of cars that were set on fire by miscreants outside a polling station at Maan village in Mukatsar district during voting for rural polls on Sunday.– PHOTO: PTI
Remains of cars that were set on fire by miscreants outside a polling station at Maan village in Mukatsar district during voting for rural polls on Sunday.– PHOTO: PTI

Except for some minor skirmishes at about a dozen places, polling for the zilla parishads and panchayat samitis on Sunday passed off peacefully in Punjab.

According to initial estimates with the State Election Commission (SEC), nearly 63 per cent of the 1.1 crore electorate across 12,000 villages exercised their franchise.

Following disputes, the SEC ordered re-poll at eight booths across Muktsar, Faridkot, Moga, Fazilka, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur and Patiala districts. The administration had made elaborate arrangements by deploying around 38,000 security personnel in 19,350 booths, including in the 2,650, which were declared sensitive.

Counting tomorrow

The polling was conducted in a single phase for 331 members of 22 zilla parishads and 2,902 members of 146 panchayat samitis. Counting is scheduled for May 21.

While in the last elections, the ruling Akali Dal-BJP had claimed a landslide, this year it faces a combined challenge from the Congress, the People’s Party of Punjab and the Left front. The electioneering saw some major violence this time.

Through a statement issued here, Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal described the smooth, peaceful and free and fair conduct of civic elections “a triumph of democracy.” His deputy, Sukhbir Singh, who is also the president of the Shiromani Akali Dal, congratulated the people and thanked party leaders, office-bearers and workers for their hard work.

“I am proud of my workers for the way they resisted all provocations to violence and acted with restraint to ensure a smooth and peaceful poll. They raised the bar of self-restraint and responsible democratic conduct. They deserve to be congratulated and thanked,” Mr. Sukhbir Singh said.

Countering their claims, Congress State president Partap Singh Bajwa “strongly condemned the large-scale violence and booth capturing by Akali workers.” However, he thanked the people for the huge turnout.

Mr. Bajwa claimed that in Lambi, which is the constituency of the Chief Minister, the Akali goons burnt vehicles, beat up voters and threatened poll staff. Reports of booth capturing and violence were received from all over the State, where police remained a “mute spectator,” he said.

At Sehna village in Bhadaur constituency, armed Akali workers arrived in two buses from Jaitu and captured the booths. Similar incidents of booth capturing were reported from Hathara Zone in Malerkotla, at Sambhu Kalan, Loh Chimbari and Sekhupur Karkeri in Ghanaur and Kheri opposite Punjabi University in Sanaur, Tharuna in Shutrana, Samana, Muktsar, Gidderbaha, Jalalabad, Dharmkot, Guru Harsahai and Ferozepur rural, Mr. Bajwa alleged. Several Congress workers were injured. Congress workers maintained calm despite high provocation from the Akali Dal workers, he said.



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