Polling across 117 Assembly constituencies began on Sunday morning in Punjab that 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 pm and the counting of ballots will take place on March 10.
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the Sanyukt Samaj Morcha, comprising Punjab farmer bodies that had taken part in the agitation against the Centre’s now repealed agricultural laws.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.
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.