New Delhi: With just a few hours left for Himachal Pradesh to choose whether to give another chance to the Virbhadra Singh-led Congress or to give a mandate to the P.K. Dhumal-led BJP this time, many political pundits are favouring the latter. Most opinion polls also predict that the BJP, which has issued a “Mission 50+” slogan for the 68-member Assembly, is coming back to power. Polling will take place on Thursday while the results will be out only on December 18, after almost six weeks.
Confident of coming back to power, Mr Dhumal tweeted a hashtag “Parivartan” along with an earlier tweet by the party’s star campaigner, Prime Minister Narendra Modi: “My campaigns across Himachal convince me that the Congress will be defeated in the polls. People can’t tolerate its corruption & misgovernance.” Mr Singh, on the other hand, tweeted his angst against demonetisation, a decision taken by the Modi government last year on this day.
“One year ago, on Nov. 8, one man’s ego traumatised a whole nation. DeMon was an unprovoked attack on common man. #BJPMoneyLaunderingDay,” tweeted the hill state’s incumbent chief minister. Other than his profile picture, his Twitter page had another photograph of him in the background with the couplet “Kaise kahoon ki thak gaya hoon main...” At 83, Mr Singh is said to be fighting his last political battle. He himself had said this “shall be my last election”. Facing strong anti-incumbency, Mr Singh is fighting from a new Assembly seat, Arki. His opponent, Mr Dhumal, is also contesting from a new constituency, Sujanpur, where his opponent is his former confidant Rajendra Singh Rana.
In all, 337 candidates, including 62 MLAs, are in the fray. Prominent candidates include the incumbent CM, 10 ministers, eight chief parliamentary secretaries, deputy speaker Jagat Singh Negi, former CM Prem Kumar Dhumal and over a dozen former ministers.
Other than traditional rivals Congress and BJP, the Mayawati-led BSP is also contesting 42 seats. The CPI(M) is also contesting 14 seats, the Swabhiman Party and Lok Gathbandhan Party six each and the CPI has fielded candidates from three seats.
The hill state saw over 450 rallies by star campaigners like Mr Modi, BJP president Amit Shah and Congress’ Rahul Gandhi. While the BJP’s main poll plank is corruption, Congress leaders, including Mr Singh, hit out at the BJP over the issue of GST and demonetisation. The candidates also include 19 women and seven rebels each of the BJP and Congress.
At present, the Congress and BJP have 35 and 28 MLAs respectively in the 68-member House, besides four Independents, while one seat is vacant.
As many as 7,525 polling booths have been set up in the state and 37,605 polling personnel deputed for poll duty. Besides 17,850 police and home guard personnel, 65 companies of Central paramilitary forces have been deployed.
The Election Commission said webcasting would be used in 2,307 polling stations for live monitoring of polling activities. Polling would be held from 8 am to 5 pm. The commission said the state has 100 per cent voter ID card holders and 7,525 EVMs and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines are being used.
The VVPAT machines are being used for the first time in this Assembly election and 10 per cent of total EVMs and VVPATs have been kept in reserve. Of the total polling stations, 983 have been declared vulnerable and 399 critical to ensure free and fair elections in the state.
The maximum numbers of vulnerable polling stations are 297 in Kangra district, and the minimum two in Kinnaur district.