Punjab and Goa on Saturday voted heavily with an estimated 70% and a record-breaking 83% turnout as the first round of assembly elections in five states concluded by and large peacefully, Election Commission said.
Traditional rivals BJP and Congress are locked in a keen electoral battle in the two states where Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP has made its maiden foray in the assembly elections, seeking to play a killjoy for the two major contenders for power.
It is the first outing for Aam Aadmi Party in assembly elections outside Delhi where it rules with an overwhelming majority in the state assembly and all eyes will be on it to see if it can upset the applicart of the two major national parties.
BJP is in government in Punjab in alliance with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) for two successive terms, while it also helms Goa, despite ally Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party having drifted away just after the announcement of elections to form a three-party combine.
The elections to Punjab and Goa, which will be followed by those in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Manipur, beginning later this month and spilling over to March, are being billed as a major test of BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity post-demonetisation.
Barring minor skirmishes and technical glitches in EVMs and Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) machines which delayed voting for some time, polling passed off peacefully in Punjab where nearly 79 per cent electors had cast their votes in the 2012 polls.
In Punjab, where SAD-BJP alliance has been in power for the past decade, today’s polling will decide the fate of a number of political bigwigs, including 89-year-old chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, seeking a sixth term in office, his old political rival and Congress’ CM face Amarinder Singh, who has declared it will be his last election, and Badal’s son and deputy Sukhbir.
Badar Sr. is locked in a keen battle with Amarinder for the Lambi seat, the pocket borough of the Badals. Amarinder, the scion of Patiala royal family, is also in the fray from his home town where ready to give him a run for his money is the former army chief JJ Singh of SAD.
Stand up comedian and AAP MP from Sangrur, Bhagwant Mann, who is a probable candidate for chief ministership if the party wins the election, is crossing swords with Sukhbir in Jalalabad. Navjot Singh Sidhu, the voluble cricketer-turned- politician, who quit BJP to join Congress just ahead of the polls, is trying his luck from Amritsar East seat, part of his former parliamentary constituency Amritsar.
The other prominent candidates include Congress veteran and former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehragagga), Indian Youth Congress chief Raja Amarinder Singh Warring (Gidderbaha), Badal’s estranged nephew Manpreet Singh Badal on Congress ticket (Bathinda Urban).
Goa registered a record 83 per cent voter turnout with no incidents of violence and very little technical problem reported in the EVMs and VVPAT machines. In the 2012 assembly elections, Goa had recorded an impressive 81.8% voting.
Goa, where chief ministership has been as fickle as the loyalties of its political leaders, today’s vote will decide the fate among others of five former CM’s, besides incumbent Laxmikant Parsekar.
While Ravi Naik, Digambar Kamat, Pratapsinh Rane and Luizinho Faleiro are in the fray as Congress nominees, Churchill Alemao is contesting on NCP ticket. The electoral fate of AAP’s chief ministerial face Elvis Gomes, a former bureaucrat, will also be decided.