Polling in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh (Phase III) Assembly elections on Sunday was largely peaceful, with 65.32% turnout in Punjab and 60.46% in Uttar Pradesh, according to the Election Commission.
The turnout in Punjab was down by around 12% in comparison to the 2017 elections, when 77.40% voters exercised their franchise in the State. As the State witnessed a lower voter turnout, speculations were rife among political observers about “tactical understanding between traditional parties”.
Meanwhile, a total of 59 Assembly seats, spread over 16 districts in Uttar Pradesh, went to the polls in Phase III, with 627 candidates in the fray. Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Ajay Kumar Shukla said polling had gone off peacefully and the turnout numbers would go up.
Mr. Shukla said 0.36% of ballot and control units and 1.36% of VVPATs were changed during polling, till 5 p.m. During the mock poll before the polling began, 0.86% of ballot units, 0.71% of control units and 0.99% of VVPATs were changed. In the third phase, there were 133 candidates who had declared criminal cases against them.
Video goes viral
On the eve of polling in Punjab, a purported video of Punjab BJP president Ashwani Sharma had gone viral on social media. The video showed Mr. Sharma addressing a gathering, stating “..a vote for AAP means a vote to break Punjab.. If you don't want to vote for us (BJP), vote for Congress. But don't vote for them who betrays the nation.” Mr. Sharma, however, dismissed it by asserting that his statement was twisted to mislead people. The BJP even filed a complaint with the Election Commission, accusing the Congress of ‘doctoring’ the video and demanded action.
“There is speculation that the traditional parties in power may have some tactical understanding in some constituencies. Some constituencies have very high voter turnout while some others have very low, why?,” asked Ashutosh Kumar, Professor of Political Science at Panjab University.
Pointing out that the low turnout could be attributed to the absence of any wave of a particular political party and the absence of any State-level leader who could emerge as the vote mobiliser, Mr. Kumar said, “Another factor for the lower turnout could be the general disillusionment of ordinary voter from the contestant parties, besides populist promises also seem to have lost seductive value.”
Polling across Punjab was by and large peaceful, however, few incidents of minor clashes were reported. “Till 5 p.m., 63.44% of voting was recorded in Punjab. There was not a single case of disruption of poll and inducement of voters that was brought to the notice of the Commission during the day,” said Chief Electoral Officer S. Karuna Raju. He said that in the morning during the mock poll 146 ballot units, 152 control units and 433 VVPAT machines were replaced, while 72 ballot units, 64 control units and 649 VVPATs were replaced during the conduct of the poll.
“Some minor poll-related incidents were witnessed in the State and a total of 18 First Information Reports have been registered on the day of polling to avert any untoward incidents,” he added.
In Punjab, voting was held for all the 117 Assembly seats in a single phase with 1,304 candidates, including 93 women and two transgenders in the fray. As many as 315 candidates are with criminal antecedents. The counting of votes will take place on March 10.
In the high-stakes battle for Punjab, the ruling Congress is trying hard to defend its turf; the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has emerged as the main challenger; the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is seeking to make a political comeback with a new alliance partner – the Bahujan Samaj Party; while the BJP has tied up with former Chief Minister Captain (retd.) Amarinder Singh’s Punjab Lok Congress.