Stage set for Cong vs BJP battle in Himachal Pradesh

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Shimla, Dec 18 (UNI) The stage is set for a Congress vs BJP battle in Himachal Pradesh tomorrow when polling for the second and final phase of Assembly elections in 65 constituencies takes place.

All arrangements have been made for the voting which will begin at 0800 hrs and end at 1700 hrs.

The crucial second phase of polling will decide the fate of 335 candidates, including Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh.

The Chief Minister is contesting from the Rohru constituency, while BJP's chief ministerial candidate Prem Kumar Dhumal is in the fray from the Bamsan seat in Hamirpur district.

As many as 44,179,15 voters, including 22,280,65 men and 21,89,850 women, would exercise their franchise in the polls.

Counting of votes would be taken up for all 68 constituencies on December 28.

The polling for three tribal constituencies was held on November 14.

An Election Commission spokesman said 5,912 polling booths, including 1,088 sensitive and 640 hyper-sensitive, have been set up across 10 districts of the state.

The highest polling booth at Tepa in Banikhet constituency is located at a height of 12,000 feet, while some booths in Bara Bhangal area of Baijnath constituency in Kangra district are located at high altitudes of 9000 to 9500 ft. Election staff and poll material have been airlifted to these areas.

The three-week-long electioneering came to a close last evening with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh winding up the Congress campaign by addressing meetings at Bilaspur and Palampur and BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate L K Advani holding rallies at Jawali and Shimla.

The campaign, which was marred by inclement weather and intense cold wave conditions, prevented the political parties from canvassing two to three days following snow in the mid and lower hills and widespread rains in the lower areas of the state.

A few meetings of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and BJP president Rajnath Singh were rescheduled due to bad weather.

National Congress leaders including the Prime Minister, Ms Gandhi and AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi, and BJP leaders including Mr Advani, Mr Rajnath Singh, Ms Sushma Swaraj, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi and Mr Yashwant Sinha, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and BSP supremo Mayawati and Lok Janshakti Party's Ram Vilas Paswan intensively campaigned for their party candidates.

A major highlight of the electioneering was a 100 km road show by Mr Gandhi.

Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Manisha Nanda said all arrangements had been completed and men and material had reached the polling booths.

About 25,000 personnel and supporting security staff have been deployed to ensure free and fair polls in the entire state.

The BJP is contesting all 65 seats, while the BSP and the Congress have fielded candidates on 64 seats.

The LJP and the Samajwadi Party have fielded 39 and 12 candidates respectively, while 58 Independents, including more than a dozen rebels of Congress and the BJP, are also in the fray.

UNI

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