Srinagar/Ranchi, Dec 22: Counting of votes will be held tomorrow in Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand which witnessed a record turnout in the multi-cornered contests to elect their assemblies. The five-phase election in the two states which stretched for nearly a month saw 66 per cent voting with authorities making massive security arrangements to prevent any attempts by militants or Maoists to disrupt the polls.
"The counting will begin at 8 AM and the first trends are expected to trickle within an hour or so. All security arrangements are in place at the counting centres," an Election Commission official said today.
In Jammu and Kashmir, where polling was held for 87 seats, the turnout was the highest after 1987 despite boycott calls by separatists and militants. The militancy-hit state has seen a quadrangular fight among ruling National Conference, main opposition PDP, BJP and Congress, which parted ways with NC ahead of the polls.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who led NC's bid to retain power, and Opposition PDP's chief ministerial candidate Mufti Mohammad Sayeed are among the 821 candidates. While Omar contested from Beerwah seat in Budgam district and Sonawar seat in Srinagar, Sayeed is seeking re-election from Anantnag Assembly segment in the south Kashmir district. Most of the observers will keenly watch the result of Handwara Assembly constituency in north Kashmir Kupwara district where separatist-turned mainstream politician Sajjad Gani Lone is trying his luck. Jharkhand, which has been battling Maoist violence, registered an overall 66 per cent turnout for the 81 assembly seats.
The state, which was carved out of Bihar in 2000, bettered the previous mark of 54.2 per cent in the 2004 assembly polls. Altogether 1,136 candidates, including 111 women, contested in Jharkhand an eligible electorate of 2,08,52,437, including 98,93,540 female voters. Out of the total seats, 28 are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes and nine for the Scheduled Castes.
Jharkhand, which has seen nine governments and three stints of President's rule in 14 years, saw fractured mandates in both 2005 and 2009 assembly elections. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) headed by Chief Minister Hemant Soren is seeking to retain power in the face of challenge by BJP. Most political observers and opinion polls are predicting a hung Assembly in Jammu and Kashmir. There are speculations about various political parties trying to work out an alliance, depending on the numbers thrown up tomorrow. Omar's National Conference, which was the single-largest part in 2008 polls winning 28 seats, is facing an uphill task to retain its position.
PDP, which had 21 members in the 11th Assembly, is expecting to be the single-largest party, riding on the anti-incumbency and anger among the flood victims. However, the party leadership is silent about any post-poll alliance so far. The ongoing elections will be a litmus test as much for BJP, which is making its first serious foray in Jammu and Kashmir to form a government, as for Congress, which will be hoping to stay relevant in the state politics following the massive rout in Lok Sabha polls earlier this year.
BJP launched an aggressive campaign as part of its 'Mission 44+' -- the magic number required for simple majority in the state Assembly -- during which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several top leaders of the party addressed election rallies across the state.