Curtains came down on the second and final phase of Himachal Pradesh assembly elections on Monday, which witnessed the ruling Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party trading charges against each other on the issue of development with inclement weather playing spoilsport.
The Congress campaign was wounded up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] by attending two rallies on Monday. The day also saw prominent political leaders, including BJP's L K Advani and Rajnath Singh and Congress' Sonia Gandhi [Images] and her son Rahul Gandhi [Images] wooing the voters in the hill state.
Polling in 65 assembly seats of the 68-members House will be held on December 19, which will decide the fate of 335 candidates, including Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh (Rohru) and BJP's chief ministerial candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal (Bamsan).
The first phase of polling took place for the three seats of Bharmaur, Lahaul and Spiti and Kinnaur on November 14 due to forecast of early snowfall.
The campaign was a low-key affair in the beginning as wet weather along with icy winds continued to frustrate political parties for days. But it picked up steadily as weather gods turned merciful.
While the prime minister attacked the track record of BJP in development in the state and accused the saffron party of raising religious, caste and regional issues to cover its no-show in economic achievements, Advani said his party, which is making a determined bid to come to power in the state, would provide Gujarat-type corruption-free government if it was voted to power in the hill state.
While the BJP, Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party have fielded candidates in all 68 seats, the Lok Janshakti Party is contesting in 38 and the Communist Party of India-Marxist in six. The Congress manifesto promises to raise the retirement age -- from 58 to 60 years -- of nearly 300,000 state government employees.
The government employees form a major chunk of the voters in the state and their support is considered crucial for the victory.
The BJP provided glamour to its campaign by fielding cinestar Shatrughan Sinha and 'dream girl' Hema Malini [Images] to charm the voters. The campaigning of the BJP centred around attacking the Congress-led governments, both at the Centre and the state, for alleged failure in development, to check price rise, menace of terrorism and 'indecisiveness' on the Indo-US nuclear deal.
The Congress leaders, besides highlighting the glorious record of the party in the growth of the country as well as Himachal Pradesh, attacked the previous BJP-led central and state governments for their 'failure' on all fronts.
While the leaders were busy canvassing, Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami and Election Commissioner S Y Qureshi visited Shimla and reviewed arrangements for the poll. They took stock of the situation and instructed the officials to ensure free and fair polls in the state.
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