A record 74.62 per cent of the 46 lakh voters in Himachal Pradesh voted in the Assembly election on Sunday, giving the straight contest between the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress a keen edge. Polling began on a slow note for the 68-member Assembly, but picked up as the day progressed.
Voting figures available until 5 pm indicated that 74.62 per cent polling had been registered, and that the final turnout would perhaps go even higher. The previous highest turnout in the State was 74.51 per cent, registered in 2003.
Election Commission Director General Akshay Raut told reporters in Delhi that the polling was violence-free. Deputy Election Commissioner Alok Shukla said the Election Commission had taken several steps to ensure a higher voter turnout in the state by making use of multiple media sources.
Typically, a high voter turnout represents a vote for change, and represents bad news for the ruling party. The political rationale is that typically, voters who are comfortable with the status quo are not proactive about voting, and only those motivated enough to vote out a government will be enthused enough to come out and vote, particularly in cold weather of the sorts that Himachal Pradesh witnessed on Sunday.
The votes will be counted on 20 December - after the Gujarat election. Elaborate arrangements have been made to keep the Electronic Voting Machines under CCTV vigil and guarded by Central paramilitary forces.
The contest in Himachal Pradesh is between the BJP and the Congress. Led by Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, the BJP is hoping to be re-elected in Himachal Pradesh - something the State political history has not witnessed since 1977. Congress leader and five-time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh voted at his native place in Rampur town, while the Chief Minister voted in Hamirpur. .
Polling started on a dull note in the morning hours due to cold weather conditions, but by 4 pm, nearly 70 per cent voters had cast their ballot. Chamba, Kullu, Una, Sirmaur, Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti recorded heavy polling.
Polling was 100 per cent in Kaa polling station in Kinnaur where all 18 voters had cast their vote by noon. Shimla constituency recorded the lowest polling of 49 per cent and Shimla (Rural) and Kusumpti 60 per cent and 57 per cent respectively. The turnout was above 75 per cent in Kullu, Chamba, Mandi and Una districts and Shillai constituency in Simmer district.
Manali and Banjjar in Kullu district recorded 77 per cent polling while it was 75 per cent in other two constituencies of Kullu and Ani, according to preliminary figures.
In Chamba district, Churah recorded 78 per cent polling while Dalhousie, Chamba and Bhatiyyat seats saw 71, 65 and 74 per cent polling. In Mandi district having ten constituencies, polling was above 73 per cent except in Jognider Nagar while all five constituencies in Sirmaour recorded polling above 80 per cent.
The average polling in Kangra district was around 68 per cent with some constituencies in Nurpur sub-division recording above 70 per cent polling. The tribal Lahaul and Spiti constituency with 22,344 votes recorded heavy polling, exceeding 77 per cent.
Corruption was a major election issue in the State this time, with the Congress facing graver charges in the wake of scams such as coal block allocations, 2G spectrum and Commonwealth Games by Cong-led UPA at the Centre. But the Congress too made counter-allegations, accusing Chief Minister Dhumal of giving away chunks of prime land to private players at throwaway prices. It also targeted BJP president Nitin Gadkari, who is himself embroiled in some irregularities relating to his business.
But towards the end of the campaign period, corruption had been replaced by price rise as the biggest voter concern. The BJP leadership used the cap on subsidised LPG cylinders and the diesel price hike to push the Congress to the wall. Dhumal promised free induction hotplates to respond to Congress' LPG cap.
Local Congress leaders too were pushed to lobby the Centre to stall another LPG price hike at the last minute.
With inputs from PTI