Himachal Pradesh on Thursday recorded its highest turnout in assembly polls, with 74.45 per cent of voters taking part in an election in which the Bharatiya Janata Party seeks to dislodge the ruling Congress on the issue of corruption while deflecting attacks on demonetisation and GST.
By 5 pm, when voting closed, 74.45 per cent of the electorate had voted, Chief Electoral Officer Pushpender Rajput said. The state’s previous highest polling percentage of 73.5 was recorded in the 2012 assembly polls.
The results, to be announced on December 18, along with those of Gujarat assembly polls next month, will be a bellwether for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity.
Sixty sitting MLAs figure among the 337 candidates fighting for a seat in the 68-member assembly in Himachal Pradesh, one of the few states under Congress rule.
Among the contenders are Congress chief minister Virbhadra Singh and the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, Prem Kumar Dhumal.
The two parties exuded confidence about the result, which both claimed would be in their favour.
“We will get over 60 seats and the Congress tally will be confined to a single digit,” BJP media head Anil Baluni said.
The Congress, in turn, thanked the people for supporting the party. “We thank them for voting to retain the Congress in power,” AICC media panellist Akhilesh Pratap Singh said.
The Congress has 35 MLAs and the BJP 28 in the outgoing assembly. There are four independents while one seat is vacant.
Voting for the assembly, which started at 8 am, came to an end at 5 pm. The Election Commission had earlier said 74 per cent voters had exercised their franchise but added that the final polling percentage could be revised after late voting figures were factored in.
The elections were peaceful, Deputy Election Commissioner Sandeep Saxena told reporters in New Delhi.
As many as 7,525 polling booths were set up and 37,605 personnel deputed for poll duty in the state of 50,25,941 voters.
A total of 17,850 personnel of police and Home Guards and 65 companies of central paramilitary force were deployed, along with other officials such as observers.
Chief Minister Singh, 10 of his ministers, eight chief parliamentary secretaries, Deputy Speaker Jagat Singh Negi, former Chief Minister Dhumal and over a dozen former ministers are among those who have thrown their hat in the ring.
The Congress and the BJP contested all 68 seats. The Bahujan Samaj Party fought for 42 seats, the Communist Party of India-Marxist 14, Swabhiman Party and Lok Gathbandhan Party six each and the CPI three. There were also 112 independent candidates in the fray.
Dharamsala had the maximum number of candidates at 12.
Singh and Dhumal have both moved out of their old constituencies. While the Congress leader contested from Arki in Solan district, the BJP strongman chose Sujanpur in Hamirpur district.
The 12-day high-voltage campaign, which ended on Tuesday, saw over 450 rallies by star campaigners of the BJP and the Congress.
Prime Minister Modi addressed seven rallies and BJP president Amit Shah, six. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi addressed three meetings.
Corruption was the main focus of the BJP campaign with the party training its guns on the chief minister, against whom the Enforcement Directorate had registered a case under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. The Congress hit out at the BJP over GST and demonetisation.
The election saw 19 women -- six from the BJP and three from the Congress. Seven rebels each from the two parties also contested the polls.
Chief Parliamentary Secretary Mansa Ram, who was elected for the first time in 1967 from Karsog, fought for the eleventh time.
Web-casting was used in 2,307 polling stations for a live monitoring of polling activities.
A total of 11,283 voter verifiable paper audit trail units were used, of which 297 were replaced, Saxena said.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, 64.45 per cent of the electorate had voted.