MUMBAI/CHANDIGARH : Voting began on a brisk note in the Assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana on Monday with people queuing up outside polling booths since early morning.
Polling is also being held in the by-election to 51 Assembly seats and two Lok Sabha constituencies spread across 18 states.
The voting commenced at 7 am and will end at 6 pm.
Union Minister Nitin Gadkari, who was among the early voters in Nagpur, said people will vote on the basis of the five-year performance of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and the Devendra Fadnavis-led dispensation in Maharashtra.
“The BJP-Sena will have a record-breaking victory and Fadnavis will be the chief minister again,” he told reporters after casting his vote.
In Maharashtra, where the ‘Mahayuti’ alliance of BJP, Shiv Sena and smaller parties is against the ‘Maha-agadhi’ led by the Congress and the NCP, a total of 8,98,39,600 people, including 4,28,43,635 women, are eligible to vote.
As many as 3,237 candidates, including 235 women, are contesting in 288 seats and 96,661 polling booths are in place with 6.5 lakh staff for the voting exercise.
The ruling BJP is locked in a contest with the opposition Congress and the fledgling JJP for the 90 assembly seats in Haryana which has over 1.83 crore voters, including 85 lakh women and 252 transgenders, while 19,578 polling stations have been set up.
Tight security arrangements have been made with deployment of more than three lakh personnel from state police and central forces in Maharashtra, while over 75,000 security personnel have been mobilised in Haryana.
Counting of votes will be on October 24.
The high-voltage electioneering by the BJP saw participation of a galaxy of leaders led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his cabinet colleagues Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh, as it continued to aggressively raise the nationalism plank by focusing on scrapping of Article 370 provisions on special status to Jammu and Kashmir and targeted the opposition on national security and corruption.
The opposition tried to corner the BJP governments at the Centre and in the states on the handling of the economy with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi blaming the ruling party for the economic slowdown and unemployment and highlighting issues like “failure” of demonetisation and GST rollout.
The BJP, which is seeking a second straight term under Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in Maharashtra, is contesting 164 seats, which include candidates of smaller allies contesting on its lotus symbol, while Sena has fielded candidates on 126 seats.
On the other hand, the Congress has fielded 147 candidates and the ally NCP 121.
Prominent candidates in the fray are Chief Minister Fadnavis and his predecessors from Congress, Ashok Chavan, who is in fray from Bhokar in Nanded district, and Prithviraj Chavan seeking re-election from Karad South in Satara district.
Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray, son of Uddhav Thackeray, is contesting from Worli in Mumbai. The 29-year-old is the first from the Thackeray family to make debut in electoral politics.
In Haryana, the Congress is hoping to make a comeback following a change in guard in the state, while the BJP led by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has set a target of winning 75 seats out of 90 in which 1,169 candidates of various political outfits are contesting.
Currently, the BJP has 48 members in state assembly and had won all 10 Lok Sabha seats in the recent election.
Prominent amongst those in the contest are Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar (Karnal), former chief minister and Congress Legislative Party leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda (Garhi Sampla-Kiloi), Randeep Singh Surjewala (Kaithal), Kiran Choudhary (Tosham) and Kuldeep Bishnoi (Adampur) and JJP’s Dushyant Chautala (Uchana Kalan).
The BJP has fielded three sportspersons—Babita Phogat (Dadri), Yogeshwar Dutt (Baroda in Sonipat) and Sandeep Singh (Pehowa) — besides TikTok star Sonali Phogat (Adampur).
Voting will also be held in bypolls to 51 assembly seats spread across 17 states.
The BJP and its allies had nearly 30 of these assembly seats, while the Congress had won 12 and the rest were with regional parties.
Among the states ruled by the BJP and its allies, the maximum 11 seats will have bypolls in Uttar Pradesh, followed by six in Gujarat, five in Bihar, four in Assam and two each in Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
The other states where bypolls will be held are Punjab (4 seats), Kerala (5 seats), Sikkim (3 seats), Rajasthan (two seats) and one seat each in Arunachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Puducherry, Meghalaya and Telangana.
The exercise is coinciding with assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra, the first major elections after the BJP retained power in the Lok Sabha polls in April-May winning 303 seats out of 543.
In politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, the polls are seen as a litmus test for the Yogi Adityanath government which has completed 30 months in office. It is a four-cornered contest with the BJP, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Samajwadi Party (SP) and Congress fielding candidates on all 11 assembly seats. (agencies)