Punjab turnout set to touch 75%. Which party stands to benefit from it?
Voters put their stamp on Punjab's fate over the next five years on Saturday. The polling was a culmination of one of the most bitter contests in the state's electoral history. For the first time the state witnessed a triangular fight on all 117 assembly constituencies, with the Aam Aadmi Party entering the fray that had long been dominated by the traditional forces of the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine.
With heavy anti-incumbency weighing down on the SAD-BJP government, the people, it appears from interactions with voters, have voted for a change after a decade. The results will be declared on 11 March, along with those for Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa.
The polling was by and large peaceful with stray incidents of violence being reported at certain places.
Starting slowly on a foggy morning, the polling picked up over the day. By 5 pm, 70% of the 2,00,29,610 voters had cast their votes at 22,615 polling stations. There were some complaints of EVMs non working in the early hours but those issues were duly rectified. EC officials expect the polling percentage to cross 75%, but it might not touch the 78.20% turnout of 2012. This is mainly because of the weather playing truant.
Having witnessed a high-pitched campaign by the three major players over the last month, the build-up to the polling day was on expected lines. As the hours to the polling approached, there was a flurry of fake news and rumours that kept the poll officials as well as functionaries of the political parties on their toes. The parties fought it out, and bitterly, till the very end despite the campaign having come to a halt on 2 February.
A "fake" diktat from the Akal Takht came into circulation late Friday night asking the Sikh voters to boycott the ruling Akalis for taking the support of the controversial Dera Sacha Sauda. This was followed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee castigating elements linked with AAP for releasing the "forged appeal" on behalf of 'Singh Sahiban' of various Takhts to the Sikhs.
SGPC general secretary Amarjit Singh Chawla said the forgery was proof that AAP could stoop to any level to woo voters. "It appears that nothing is sacred for AAP, not even religion," he said, claiming that by releasing the forged letter the AAP sympathisers had played with the sentiments of the Sikhs. He said the release of the forged letter was the "completion of AAP's conspiracy to align with hardliners, encourage them to create disturbances, blame the SAD for the same and then come out with a false and concocted letter on behalf of the 'Singh Sahiban'".
This was followed by the AAP leadership denying any involvement with the fake hukamnama. Senior party leader HS Phoolka said "such an act is highly condemnable" and insisted that AAP "doesn't believe in such dirty tricks".
Phoolka said the SGPC releasing a statement against AAP was a conspiracy against the party. He added that the party has great respect for the SGPC and Sri Akal Takht Sahib. "In the past, the dirty tricks department of the Congress and its contractor Prashant Kishor has posted fake letters in the name of AAP. We have made complaints against him. It may be an act of the Congress or the SAD to defame AAP," he alleged.
In Lambi, where the Congress' chief ministerial nominee Amarinder Singh and AAP's Jarnail Singh were pitted against Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, the two parties demanded action against SAD leader Gurbakhshish Singh 'Vicky' Middukhera and his son Gurlal Singh for allegedly distributing money to voters at Hakkuwala village.
There were clashes between AAP and Akali supporters in Bathinda and Mansa Friday, reportedly over the distribution of free liquor, during which AAP leader Robby Brar was shot in the thigh. In Sangrur, there was tension with the Congress and the Akali supporters accusing each other of assault.
On Saturday, as the polling was on, reports came of Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia and Congress nominee Sukhjinder Raj Singh Lalli Majithia having a heated exchange of words after the former objection to the latter allegedly bringing vehicles inside the polling station.
There was tension in Jwaharke village of Mansa over alleged manhandling of a Granthi by some Akali workers.
There were also reports of an Akali worker being injured in a clash with Congress workers at Killanwali village in Lambi. In Tarn Taran, a Congress worker reportedly suffered bullet injuries after an SAD sarpanch allegedly opened fire outside a polling booth.
The three main parties all exuded confidence about winning the election. Describing this election as a contest between "stability" and communalism and radicalism, Amarinder said his party was confident of a "clean sweep" across the state, including in the Malwa region, which poll pundits have marked as an AAP stronghold.
Senior SAD leader and central minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal said she was "100 per cent confident of a hat-trick by the SAD-BJP combine". "We will win easily. Punjab is looking forward to peace and development," added chief minister Badal.
AAP's national convener Arvind Kejriwal said Punjab and Goa would both "make history" on Saturday.