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Himachal Pradesh: 65.92% Polling Till 5 p.m, Lahaul, Spiti Record Highest Turnout

Voting began at 8 am on a slow note but picked up as the day progressed and the sun warmed the winter chill.
Voters wait in a queue to cast their votes for the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections, at a polling station in Dharamshala district

Voters wait in a queue to cast their votes for the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections, at a polling station in Dharamshala district. Image Courtesy: PTI

Shimla: From Shimla to the icy heights of Spiti, as people across Himachal Pradesh voted on Saturday to elect a new state government, the Election Commission recorded 65.92% polling at 5 pm.

Voting began at 8 am on a slow note but picked up as the day progressed and the sun warmed the winter chill. As of 3 pm, the highest polling of 62.75% was recorded in Lahaul and Spiti districts, followed by 60.38% in Sirmour and 58.9% in Mandi, Chief Minister Jairam Thakur's home district.

Till 3 pm, Seraj in Mandi and Sujanpur had recorded 65% polling, the highest among the 68 Assembly constituencies. Anni constituency recorded polling of 62.4%, Arki 40%, Churah 34.68% and Dalhousie 38.44%, among others.

Voting began after poll officials conducted a mock drill at all booths to check electronic voting machines.

"Nearly 50,000 polling staff and around 25,000 security staff were deployed," Himachal Pradesh's Chief Electoral Officer Maneesh Garg told PTI.

The EC set up 7,884 polling stations, including three auxiliary voting stations in far-flung areas. Of these, 789 were vulnerable booths and 397 were critical ones.

The highest booth was in Tashigang, Kaza in the Spiti area of Lahaul and Spiti district at a height of 15,256 feet. It caters to 52 voters.

The election is being considered a crucial test for the BJP hoping to beat precedent and return to power as well as for the Congress looking for electoral revival.

In an early morning message to voters, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged them to enthusiastically participate in the "festival of democracy" and register a voting record.      

As voting got underway, people could be seen basking in the sun as they waited for their turn, and some, in the higher reaches of the mountains, trudging through the snow to reach polling stations.

Braving the cold, a large number of centenarians voted in the Assembly elections with 105-year-old Nari Devi exercising her franchise in Churah in Chamba and 103-year-old Pyar Singh in Shimla.

The EC had made special arrangements for the elderly and persons with disabilities at polling stations. There are over 1.21 lakh elderly above 80 years in the state, with 1,136 being centenarians.

In Chasak Bhatpri, an 83-year-old woman was among those who cast their vote in the Bharmaur constituency in Chamba, the farthest in the state, the poll panel said.

"Bharmour is the farthest in the state being at a distance of 14 km from the nearest road head. Seeing the huge response from the voters despite heavy snow," the EC said, sharing Bhatpri’s picture in the snow.

"We are confident of the BJP's grand victory. We are getting good feedback," said CM Jai Ram Thakur while speaking to reporters in Mandi from where he is contesting.

Enthusing voters to back the Congress, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi also asked them to turn out in large numbers and make their contribution to the progress and prosperous future of the state.

"Himachal will vote for OPS (old pension scheme), Himachal will vote for employment, Himachal will vote for 'Har Ghar Lakshmi'," he said in a tweet in Hindi.

If the ruling BJP is hoping for an encore on the back of its development agenda, the opposition Congress, desperate to wrest the state back from the BJP after multiple electoral losses and losing nine states in two years, is appealing to voters to go by the four-decade tradition of voting out incumbents in the state.

The grand old party has made a host of promises, including Rs 1,500 to all women every month under the 'Har Ghar Lakshmi' scheme, 300 units of free power and five lakh jobs in the next five years. It has also promised a Rs 680-crore Start-up fund.

The Congress has banked principally on Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra.

The BJP has promised implementation of the Uniform Civil Code and eight lakh jobs in the state, besides scooties for college-going girls and cycles for school girls belonging to weaker sections. The BJP has also asked voters to change the riwaaz (tradition) by re-electing the party, saying the "double engine" regime will continue to work for all-round development.

The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which is the new entrant in Himachal and is contesting in 67 of 68 seats, has been fairly quiet as the contest shaped up as a direct one between the BJP and the Congress in line with past trends.

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