Himachal Pradesh: Over 53 lakh voters to seal fate of 45 candidates today
Shimla, May 18: Five MLAs, including a state minister, are among the 45 candidates trying to make it to Parliament from Himachal Pradesh where polling will be held Sunday, the last phase of voting in the 2019 elections.
Among the 45 candidates is Congress nominee from Mandi, Aashray Sharma, whose father had to sacrifice his berth in the state's BJP government. There are 53,30,154 registered voters for the four constituencies -- Shimla (SC), Mandi, Hamirpur and Kangra -- in the state.
A direct contest is expected between the Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which had won all four seats in 2014. The BJP has fielded the state's Food and Civil Supplies Minister Kishan Kapoor in Kangra after dropping sitting MP Shanta Kumar. Kangra's Congress MLA Pawan Kajal is contesting against him.
In Hamirpur, three-time MP and former BCCI president Anurag Thakur is in the fray on a BJP ticket. He faces Sri Naina Devi's Congress MLA Ram Lal Thakur. BJP's Pachhad MLA Suresh Kashyap is contesting against Solan Congress MLA Dhani Ram Shandil for the Shimla (SC) parliamentary seat. Aashray Sharma, who is the grandson of former Union Telecom minister Sukh Ram, is contesting against BJP MP Ram Swaroop Sharma in Mandi. His father Anil Sharma had to resign from the state cabinet after he decided to contest on the Congress ticket.
Anil Sharma's resignation followed an awkward phase during which the minister refused to campaign for his own party's candidate in Mandi, insisting that he would not takes sides. The state is almost certain to see some assembly by-polls in the coming months to fill vacant seats, as both the Congress and the BJP have fielded MLAs. Although the state sends just four MPs to the Lok Sabha, political parties spared no efforts during the last days of the campaign.
Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Rahul Gandhi addressed rallies in the state. Superintendent of Police (law and order) Khushhal Sharma said elaborate security arrangements have been made for the smooth conduct of the polls in the state. Forty-seven companies of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) have been deployed along with the state police and home guard personnel to ensure free and fair elections, he told PTI on Saturday.
State's Assistant Chief Electoral Officer Harbans Lal Dhiman said 7,723 polling stations have been set up in the state and out of which 373 have been declared as critical and 939 as vulnerable. There is a considerable number of the first-time voters (1,52,390, 2.85 per cent) and service voters (68,028, 1.27 per cent of the total voters) in the state. Of the total 68,028 service voters, member of the armed forces, the highest 24,245 are in Hamirpur Lok Sabha seat, followed by 21,836 in Kangra, 13,474 in Mandi and 8,473 services voters are in Shimla Lok Sabha seat, a state electoral officer said.
Service voter can cast their vote either through postal ballot or through a proxy voter duly appointed by him. Dhiman said the ballot papers had been electronically transmitted to record offices/units of service voters on May 3 itself with envelopes to ensure their voting.
He said, "Service votes will be counted first of all at the time of start of counting at 8 am on May 23. So the service votes are required to reach the concerned Returning Officer before the start of the counting.'
Besides, special arrangements have also been made to ensure voting of the 46,000 polling staff, he added. "The polling staff including police and home guard jawans may cast their votes at any polling station if they are deployed in the Lok Sabha constituency where they are registered as voters by showing their election duty certificates (EDCs)," Dhiman said "Otherwise they may cast their votes through ballot papers," he added. Voting in the state will begin at 7 am and will go on till 6 pm.