47 per cent cast vote in crucial Rajouri bypoll

The Asian Age.  | Pratik kumar and Nishtha grover

Metros, Delhi

VVPAT machines changed in 38 places due to snag, 1 EVM replaced.

Voters show thier ID cards before casting vote for the Rajori Gardens Assembly seat. (Photo: Bunny Smith)

New Delhi: The bypoll to the crucial Rajouri Garden Assembly constituency on Sunday saw a voter turnout of 47 per cent, making it clear that it was going to be a three-corner contest between the Akali Dal(M)-BJP combine candidate Manjinder Singh Sirsa, Congress councillor Meenakshi Chandela and AAP’s Harjeet Singh.

This is perhaps the first occasion when the Assembly seat has seen such a high voter turnout in bypolls. Last time, bypoll in the seat was held in 2004 after three-time legislator and now Delhi Congress president Ajay Maken quit the seat to join former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Cabinet. The voting in the constituency started on a low note with nearly 22 per cent voters exercising their franchise by 1 pm.

The seat, which fell vacant after AAP MLA Jarnail Singh, quit the Assembly to contest elections in the neighbouring Punjab, had for the first time slipped out of the hands of the Congress in 2013 when Mr Sirsa defeated his nearest rival by a margin of about 10,000 votes.

Minor snags in VVPAT machines at several booths and in one EVM (electronic voting machine) were reported. The VVPAT machines, which were used across the 166 polling booths, had to be changed at around 38 places, while one EVM was also replaced, chief electoral officer Chandra Bhushan Kumar said.

Traditionally a Congress stronghold, the seat has been won thrice by impressive margins by state party president Ajay Maken in 1993, 1998 and 2003. Again, in the 2004 bypoll, the seat witnessed a voter turnout of just 37.95 per cent but it was again retained by Cong-ress candidate Ramesh Lamba by polling 49.95 per cent votes against his nearest BJP rival Ramesh Khanna who secured 40.46 per cent of the total votes. “This bypoll is very impo-rtant and the Congress will win this election. The contest is mainly between the Congress and the BJP. This is directly parliamentary election,” Mr Maken said.

The constituency, a mix of unauthorised colonies, slums, urban villages, middle and upper middle class voters, is going to be a litmus test for AAP, BJP and Congress. For AAP, the poll outcome on April 13 is going to be a referendum on the party’s two-year governance in Delhi. The bypoll results are bound to have a direct bearing on the all important April 23 civic elections. The Congress has been trying hard to win back its stronghold to open its account in the 70-member Assembly. The party had to face a humiliating defeat after ruling the city for 15 consecutive years as it was unable to win even a single seat. The Assembly polls were swept by the AAP by winning 67 of the 70 seats.

For the BJP, the bypoll will be a major challenge as the party has not fielded even a single sitting councillor.

The constituency had seen the highest voter turnout of 66.25 per cent in 1993 when Mr Maken secured 50.95 per cent of the total votes. Low voter turnout is likely to give an edge to the Akali-BJP combine as they have a dedicated cadre-base support in the constituency.