Getting inked is cool, and democracy has never been more alive in India. Chandigarh underlined this as it registered its highest-ever Lok Sabha election voter turnout, inching towards 74%, on Thursday. At 73.85% as per reports till 10.30pm, the union territory (UT) constituency thus improved by nearly 9% from the 65.5% turnout of 2009, while the previous best turnout was in 1984, at 68.2%.
Beginning at 7am at 519 booths, polling at first was sluggish amid reports of minor snags in electronic voting machines (EVM). By 9am, 11% residents (68,116 of the 6.13 lakh) had cast their vote. The number shot up to 26% by 1pm. The next two hours took it to 42%, and it crossed 67% by 3pm, before hitting the new peak as voting concluded around 9.30pm. Technically the gates of polling stations were closed at 6pm, but those already inside were allowed to cast their vote as per rules in Dhanas, Manimajra and some other areas. The city, and particularly its several villages and slum colonies were in festive mood as the voters started queuing up as early as 5am.
The election was concluded without any untoward incident, thanks to tight security arrangements made by the police. Only minor scuffles were reported among workers of some parties. However, there were questions over the efficiency and pace of work by officials at booths in villages and slum colonies. All political parties - Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) - had set up desks at all polling booths for the assistance of voters.
The contest in Chandigarh has never been so hotly debated and followed. Sitting MP of the Congress, Pawan Bansal, faced a challenge from two actors, the BJP's Kirron Kher and the AAP's Gul Panag, besides the BSP's firebrand Jannat Jahan. In all, 17 candidates were in fray.
Wait is now on for May 16, when the entire country's fate would be revealed after several phases of voting.
NOT SO SMOOTH HERE
Residents of villages and colonies braved the heat for up to three hours to cast their votes. The queues in Dhanas, which has 28,721 voters, went over 500 during peak hours even as people had queued up as early as 5am and had wanted the election staff to start polling before the scheduled 7am. Power breakdown in Booth Number 84 around 7.30pm in Dhanas made things difficult as voting was discontinued briefly.
The situation was similar in Manimajra and Ram Darbar that have 48,103 and 21,724 electors, respectively. Waiting period was up to two hours, and there were also no proper arrangements for drinking water at many stations.
Ram Kumar, a resident of Dhanas, said the polling staff was not "trained properly", so "one voter was taking 10-20 minutes". But joint chief election officer Tilak Ram blamed the small size of buildings in the Dhans slum rehabilitation colony for the delay.
Senior citizens came out in large number to vote. There are 63,627 voters aged 60 and above, of which around 30,000 exercised their franchise. Jamuna Devi Arora, 101, who has been voting since Independence, said: "Everyone should vote till they are alive as it is important to elect the right person." Asked about her criteria she said, "Corruption is an important issue, and people should be allowed to live with dignity."
The pick-and-drop service of the election department was availed by 75 people, including 100-year-old Sardar Singh, a resident of Sector 35.