Shimla: After the end of the high-voltage campaigning here, elections to sixty-eight assembly seats in the Congress-ruled Himachal Pradesh will be held on Thursday.
The single-phase elections, which have become a battle of prestige for the two main political parties here - the ruling Congress and the main opposition BJP – will be held under the watchful eyes of the Election Commission.
The polling for the 68-seat Himachal Pradesh assembly will be held on nearly 7,525 booths across the hill state.
A total of 50.25 lakh electorate, including 19 lakh women, will decide the fate of 338 candidates including 19 women.
The counting of votes will be held on December 18 along with that of the assembly polls held in Gujarat.
The CPI-M has fielded candidates on 14 seats while the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which made its début in the hill state in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, has preferred to stay away.
Political observers say the contest between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is neck-and-neck as there is no clear wave in favour of any party.
It is literally a do-or-die battle for both the chief ministerial faces - Prem Kumar Dhumal and Virbhadra Singh - who are struggling for their political survival.
One is veteran Congress leader and incumbent Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, 83, who is pushing hard to get to the helm for the seventh time.
The other is the BJP`s Prem Kumar Dhumal, 73, who is making a strong bid to ensure the party`s win with a record margin to silence his detractors within the party.
For almost two decades, both the parties in the state have fought almost every assembly and Lok Sabha polls under their leadership.
"This time, Virbhadra Singh is fighting on two fronts - one is to establish his son Vikramaditya Singh, who is contesting his maiden assembly election, and the second is to ensure the party`s repeat as he forced the Congress to announce him as the Chief Ministerial candidate despite all odds," a political observer said.
For Dhumal, it`s simply the battle for "self-survival" after facing a humiliating defeat in the 2012 assembly polls. Since then, he was almost marginalised by the BJP faction led by Union Health Minister JP Nadda.
After thwarting foes within, Virbhadra Singh donned the battle gear much ahead of his arch-rival Dhumal, whose name was cleared by the BJP as its Chief Ministerial candidate just days earlier.
Interestingly, both Virbhadra Singh and Dhumal are seeking re-election from new seats and that is not going to be easy for them.
The Congress leader is in the fray from Arki in Solan district, a BJP pocket borough that he chose himself. Dhumal is contesting from Sujanpur, the seat he was asked to contest from.
Virbhadra Singh, who knew the assembly poll was a vote on the performance of his five-year-old government, single-handedly toured the state aggressively.
In the campaigning, Virbhadra Singh, popularly known as `Raja Saab` as he was born into the erstwhile princely state of Bushahr, has no qualms about folding his hands and bowing his head before commoners when it comes to seeking votes.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi held only three election meetings on a single day just a day before the campaigning ended.
But the BJP, desperate to win, lined up its entire top leadership in the campaigning.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent three days in campaigning. So did President Amit Shah and Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, JP Nadda, Smriti Irani and Thaawar Chand Gehlot.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath also campaigned to woo the electorate.
From the Congress, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who is known for his "royal ways" owing to his erstwhile Patiala royalty and related to `Raja Saab`, campaigned in the state for two days.