Around 1.76 crore voters will seal the fate of 1,078 candidates, including the two chief ministerial aspirants Parkash Singh Badal of ruling SAD-BJP and Amarinder Singh of opposition Congress, in fray for 117 assembly seats in Punjab where polling will take place on Monday amidst tight security.
About 200 companies of the central Para military forces, besides Punjab Police personnel, have been deployed to ensure free and peaceful polling at 19,841 polling stations, including five identified as "hyper-sensitive" and 32 as sensitive, an election office spokesman said.
Out of the 1,078 candidates in fray 417, including 45 women, are independents. At the last hustings in 2007, after scrutiny and withdrawal there were a total of 1,055 candidates, including 56 women, in fray.
The ruling SAD-BJP alliance, the Congress and BSP are contesting all the 117 assembly seats. Newly formed Punjab People's Party is contesting 92 while SAD (Amritsar) headed by former IPS officer Simranjit Singh Mann is contesting 57 seats.
The SAD has put up candidates on 94 seats which include 10 women while the BJP is contesting the remaining 23 seats, which includes three women.
The Congress has fielded 11 women while the BSP has fielded six women.
Most of the 117 assembly seats will witness a triangular contest between the ruling SAD-BJP alliance, the main opposition Congress and the Sanjha Morcha which includes the Left and People's Party of Punjab (PPP) led by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal's estranged nephew Manpreet.
Prominent among those in fray include Badal (Lambi) as also his predecessor Amarinder (Patiala City) whose sons Sukhbir, who is also the Deputy chief minister (Jalalabad) and Raninder (Samana) are also in the fray besides another former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehra).
Two civil servants D S Guru, Principal Secretary to the CM and P S Gill, DGP, who resigned and retired respectively shortly before the assembly polls have filed their nominations from Bhadaur and Moga.
The other contestants include Manpreet (Gidderbaha and Maur), his father and Badal Senior's younger brother Gurdas (Lambi, PPP), and his cousin Mahesh Inder (Lambi, Congress), former Deputy Speaker Bir Devinder Singh (Mohali, PPP), turncoat Balwant Singh Ramuwalia (Mohali, SAD), former Industries Minister and senior BJP leader Manoranjan Kalia (Jalandhar) and former SGPC Chief Jagir Kaur (Bholath, SAD).
The maximum number of 16 candidates each is in three constituencies of Ludhiana East, Jalalabad, Patiala Rural while the lowest number of four candidates is in fray at Attari (SC).
In the 2007 General elections 76% of the 1.67 crore voters had sealed the fate of 1,043 candidates against 65% of the 1.58 Core voters sealing the fate of 923 candidates in the 2002 elections.
The security deposit of 798 candidates was forfeited in the 2007 polls which returned the SAD-BJP alliance to power with SAD winning 49, BJP 19, Congress 44 and remaining five seats going to the independents.
Earlier, in the 2002 polls the Congress had returned to power winning 62 seats. SAD won 41 seats, its alliance partner BJP three, CPI two and Independents won nine seats. The security of 655 candidates was forfeited in these polls.
Of the major contestants the SAD had got a vote share of 37.09% in 2007 as against 31.08% in 2002. Its alliance partner BJP got a vote share of 8.28% in 2007 against 5.67% in 2002.
The Congress had got a vote share of 40.90% in 2007 as compared with 35.81% in 2002.
The vote share of 431 Independent candidates in the 2007 polls reduced to 6.82% from 11.27% secured by 274 candidates in the 2002 general assembly elections.
The counting of votes will take place on March six.