Rain failed to dampen the spirits of people in Punjab on Tuesday who turned out in large numbers to elect candidates to 115 of the 117 assembly seats and the Amritsar parliamentary constituency. Elections to the Valtoha and Beas assembly seats were postponed following incidents of violence.
At close, a whopping 71.92 per cent of voters had exercised their franchise in the assembly election that was free and fair and largely peaceful except for minor skirmishes at a few places between the supporters of the two leading parties, Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
Polling started on a dull note as incessant rain throughout the morning kept most voters indoors, but picked up as soon as the weather cleared in the afternoon. Even after the scheduled 5 pm close, a large number of voters could be seen standing in queues to cast their votes. In 2002 assembly elections, about 65 per cent electorate had cast their votes.
A minor scuffle between the polling agents of SAD and the Congress at Lambi and in Sector 71 of SAS. Nagar (Mohali) was reported. In Pathankot, tension prevailed after four people were injured in a scuffle between the supporters of the Congress and an independent candidate.
No incident of poll malpractice including booth capturing, violence or breach of law and order was reported from any part of the state, said an Election Commission official here.
Tuesday also saw polling in the byelection to the prestigious Amritsar parliamentary where cricketer-turned-politician and BJP candidate Navjot Singh Sidhu was pitted against his Congress rival and Punjab Finance Minister Surinder Singla.
An FIR was registered against Singla on the directions of the EC for allegedly slapping a polling officer in Majitha (Amritsar).
The EC official said that 52.09 per cent votes were polled in Amrtisar, 72.09 in Gurdaspur, 75.13 in Nawanshehr, 69 in Kapurthala, 72.7 in Jalandhar, 61 in Hoshiarpur, 70.08 in Ludhiana, 71.67 in Ropar, 68.33 in S.A.S. Nagar, 79 in Fatehgarh Sahib, 82.43 in Sangrur, 74.13 in Ferozepur, 73.63 in Moga, 78.25 in Muktsar, 79.13 in Faridkot, 77.60 in Bathinda, 85 in Mansa, 68.5 in Tarn Taran, 70 in Gurdaspur and 79 in Barnala.
While a record 90 per cent was polled in the Dirba constituency in Sangrur district, the lowest votes polled was 52 per cent in Amritsar (North), Amritsar (South) and Gardhiwala-SC seat constituency, the poll official said.
The high percentage of voting during the elections, especially in the Malwa region pointed to a keen contest and high stakes for the candidates of both the Congress and the SAD-BJP combine. Incidentally, this was the first time both the Congress and the SAD focussed on the Malwa belt in such an aggressive manner.
While Congress fielded its candidates for all the seats, SAD and BJP contested 94 and 23 seats, respectively.
The ruling Congress and the opposition SAD maintained the large turnout was a result of "enthusiastic" voters keen to exercise their franchise.
Chief Minister Amrinder Singh expressed confidence that his party would return to power. However, SAD president Parkash Singh Badal told reporters in Lambi that the SAD-BJP combine would soon be forming the government in Punjab.
Amongst the main contenders whose fate hangs in balance are Chief Minister Amrinder Singh for Congress (Patiala), SAD president Parkash Singh Badal (Lambi), former SGPC President Bibi Jagir Kaur (Bholath), Punjab Congress chief Shamsher Singh Dullo (Khanna-Reserve) and Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehra Gagga).