Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Friday said his party would pull off a spectacular victory in the state assembly elections, but evaded a direct reply to a question whether he would be the chief minister for the fifth time, as he just said 'Bharatiya Janata Party Zindabad'.
His statement comes a day after most exit polls put the BJP ahead in Madhya Pradesh.
It was for the first time since 2003 that the BJP contested the assembly polls held on November 17 without projecting a chief ministerial candidate.
The counting for the assembly elections will be held on the coming Sunday.
"The BJP is heading for a spectacular majority as the schemes of the central and the state governments have reached down to the people of MP," Chouhan, the longest-serving chief minister of the state, told reporters in Gwalior.
The central government's schemes like the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) and the state government's Ladli Behna Yojana, under which women are being paid Rs 1,250 per month financial assistance, have been admired by people, he said.
"The double-engine government with its welfare and beneficial schemes have won the hearts of the people and achieved progress and development in MP," Chouhan said.
Asked whether he would become the chief minister for the fifth time, he just said, 'Bharatiya Janata Party Zindabad'.
On March 17 last year, Chouhan achieved the distinction of being the longest-serving chief minister from the BJP in the country. He broke the record which had been held by former Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh.
His tenure as the chief minister, however, saw a break as the BJP was out of power for 15 months after the Congress formed the government led by veteran leader Kamal Nath following the 2018 assembly polls.
The last assembly polls threw up a hung assembly with the Congress emerging as the single largest party with 114 seats in the 230-member House. The BJP, in power in the state since 2003, was close second with 109 seats.
The Nath-led dispensation, however, was short-lived as it collapsed in March 2020 after several MLAs loyal to the then Congress leader and now Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia quit the grand old party and joined the BJP, paving the way for Chouhan's return as chief minister for a record fourth term.
The counting for the 230 assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh will begin from 8 am on Sunday (December 3) in all the 52 district headquarters of the state amid tight security, and all necessary preparations for it have been made, a top poll official said on Friday.
From 8 am to 8.30 am, postal ballots will be counted and after that, counting of votes through Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) will begin in the presence of officials and the authorised political party's agents.
Soon after the postal ballots are counted, their result will be declared candidate-wise by the officials concerned and the exercise will be followed after the completion of each round of counting, Madhya Pradesh's chief electoral officer (CEO) Anupam Rajan told reporters.
A total of 692 tables have been placed for the counting of postal ballots in all 52 districts, while a total of 4,369 tables have been set up to place EVMs for counting, he said.
At 26, the highest number of rounds for counting of votes will take place in Jhabua seat, while lowest number of 12 rounds will be held in Sevda seat in Datia district, he said.
"All arrangements have been made for conducting the counting and all the district returning officers, police commissioners and superintendent of police were directed to follow necessary security protocols. The government has declared the day of counting as a 'dry day', during which all wine and liquor shops shall remain closed," he said.
A three-tier security arrangement will be in place and only people holding valid passes will be allowed to enter the counting centres, he said.
A voter turnout of 77.15 per cent was recorded in the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, which is 1.52 per cent more than the 2018 polls, the ECI data revealed.
The EVMs will decide the electoral fate of 2,533 candidates who were in the fray for the 230 assembly seats, including political bigwigs like Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his predecessor and rival Kamal Nath, in a poll that will be a largely bipolar battle between the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress.
Out of the 230 assembly seats, 47 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes and 35 for Scheduled Castes.
Besides CM Chouhan (from Budhni seat) and state Congress president Kamal Nath (Chhindwara), the EVMs will also decide the fate of three Union ministers from the BJP - Narendra Singh Tomar, Prahlad Patel and Faggan Singh Kulaste.
It will also decide the political fortunes of BJP general secretary Kailash Vijaywrgiya who contested from Indore-1 and three Lok Sabha MPs of the saffron party -- Rakesh Singh, Ganesh Singh and Riti Pathak.
Besides the main contenders - the Congress and the BJP, the Aam Aadmi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, among others, had also fielded their candidates and the number of votes that their candidates will garner will also be a crucial factor in deciding the winner from any constituency.
The electioneering saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP president JP Nadda, Union minister Rajnath Singh, CM Chouhan and others, addressing rallies to drum up support for saffron party nominees.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, party leaders Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and Digvijaya Singh and Nath along with others addressed rallies to seek support for their nominees.