Over 34% polling in Punjab till 1 pm

Over 34 per cent polling across 117 Assembly constituencies was registered till 1 p.m. in Punjab that began at 8 a.m. on Sunday with Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi, Navjot Sidhu, Sukhbir Badal, Bhagwant Mann and Capt Amarinder Singh among the prominent faces in the fray.

Punjab state is witnessing a multi-cornered contest with more than 2.14 crore voters exercising their franchise to decide the fate of 1,304 candidates, including 93 women and two transgenders.

The polling will be conducted till 6 p.m. and the counting of ballots will take place on March 10.

Congress leader Sunil Jakhar, who were among the early voters, casts his vote in Panjkosi village in Abohar constituency, while greenhorn Congress’ candidate Malvika Sood, who is sister of actor Sonu Sood, casts her vote in Moga and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief minister candidate Bhagwant Mann exercised his franchise in Mohali.

Mann is contesting from the Dhuri Assembly seat, while Finance Minister Manpreet Badal asked voters to choose carefully.

Ahead of casting his vote, Channi offered prayers to Lord Shiva at a temple in Kharar town. His elder son Navjit Singh said his father delivered in the 111 days of his rule. He should be given another chance.

Reports of booth capturing coming in from Ajnala AC’s Booth No. 59 by some miscreants as well as hooliganism by drunkards outside the polling station, tweeted AAP leader Raghav Chadha.

Bollywood actor Sonu Sood accused other party candidates of trying to buy off votes. “Other candidates in #Moga Constituency are buying votes. @ECISVEEP should take immediate action regarding the same,” he said in a tweet, tagging Moga’s public relation office and police in his tweet.

However, the Election Commission restrained Sood from visiting polling stations in Moga over complaints that he was influencing voters. His vehicle was impounded and instructed him to stay inside house. His sister Malvika Sood is the Congress candidate.

The main contest is among the ruling Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which is contesting the polls in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party after breaking two-decade old ties with the BJP in 2020 over the farm laws.

The BJP-Punjab Lok Congress (PLC) alliance is also in the fray, besides the Sanyukt Samaj Morcha, comprising Punjab farmer bodies that had taken part in the agitation against the Centre’s now repealed agricultural laws.

All the parties are banking on freebies to woo the electorates. AAP has promised Rs 1,000 for all women, while the Congress has assured Rs 1,100 per month for needy women. The SAD-BSP alliance has promised Rs 2,000 per month to all women heads of BPL families.

The youngest in the political landscape is controversial and crowd-puller candidate Sidhu Moosewala, while the eldest one is Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch Parkash Singh Badal, 94, whose feet were touched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi owing to humility after filing his nomination papers for the Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency in 2019.

Elderly Badal, who said they have standing firm at one place for the last three generations, cast his vote at the Government Primary School at Badal village along with his son Sukhbir Badal, daughter-in-law and Bathinda MP, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, and their daughter Harkirat Kaur.

Former Punjab chief minister and founder of Punjab Lok Congress Capt Amarinder Singh said: “I am certain of winning in Patiala. I think we will win the elections…They (Congress) live in a different world and will be wiped out of Punjab.”

SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia, who is contesting from Amritsar East against Congress state chief Navjot Sidhu, said, “People will win, their issues will win and public will reject Sidhu’s arrogance and hate politics.”

Chief Electoral Officer S. Karuna Raju told the media on Saturday of 1,304 candidates — 231 are from national parties, 250 from state, 362 from unrecognised parties, and 461 independent candidates. A total of 315 contesting candidates are with criminal antecedents.

He said 24,689 polling stations and 51 auxiliary polling stations have been established at 14,684 polling station locations of which 2,013 are identified as critical and 2,952 vulnerable pockets.

There would be 1,196 model polling stations and 196 women-managed stations. There will be webcasting of all stations.

Raju said the total electorates comprised 444,721 of the age of 80 years or more, 138,116 voters with disabilities and 162 Covid-19 patients.

A total of 348,836 electors of 18-19 years age would exercise their right of franchise for the first time, while 1608 are NRI voters.

The hot seats include Amritsar (East) from where Congress state unit chief Navjot Sidhu is in the race to retain it; Patiala (Urban), the ‘royal’ bastion of Congress rebel Capt Amarinder Singh, whose fledgling PLC is contesting the polls in alliance with the BJP and SAD (Sanyukt); and Dhuri from where AAP’s chief ministerial face Bhagwant Mann is trying his luck for the first time.

The other hot seat to look out for is Chief Minister Charanjit Channi’s Chamkaur Sahib, a reserved seat that he has won three consecutive times. It is currently in the news for illegal sand mining.

Channi, the chief ministerial face who was elevated after Capt Amarinder Singh’s resignation on September 18 last year, is the first Scheduled Caste Chief Minister of a state that is home to 32 per cent Scheduled Caste population, the highest in the country.

He is contesting from Bhadaur in Barnala district, a second seat, apart from Chamkaur Sahib.

In the 2017 Assembly elections, the Congress had won an absolute majority by winning 77 seats in the 117-member Punjab assembly and ousted the SAD-BJP government after 10 years.

The AAP had emerged as the second-largest party, winning 20 seats. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) won 15 seats, while the BJP, which had a coalition government with the Akali Dal in Punjab from 2007 to 2017, secured three seats.

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