Srinagar/Ranchi: Polling began on Sunday for the penultimate round of the five-phased elections as votes were being cast for 18 seats in Jammu and Kashmir and 15 Assembly seats in Jharkhand.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Babulal Marandi and three incumbent ministers are among the heavyweights in Jharkhand whose future will be sealed in the ballot boxes today; while in J&K the fate of 182 candidates including two chief ministerial aspirants and Speaker of the Assembly will be decided.
Well before the polling began, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged voters to turn up in large number. He tweeted: "I urge all friends across J&K and Jharkhand voting today in the 4th phase of the Vidhan Sabha elections to vote in large numbers."
I urge all friends across J&K and Jharkhand voting today in the 4th phase of the Vidhan Sabha elections to vote in large numbers.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 14, 2014
In the 18 Assembly seats of Jammu and Kashmir over 14.73 lakh voters including 7.05 lakh females are eligible to exercise their franchise at 1,890 polling stations in four districts of the state Srinagar, Anantnag, Shopian (Kashmir Valley) and Samba (Jammu region).
All eyes will be on the eight constituencies of Srinagar currently being represented by the National Conference (NC)? as the voter turnout has generally remained low in the district along with some parts of Anantnag and Shopian.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is contesting from Sonwar Assembly segment of Srinagar after he chose not to contest from his family stronghold of Ganderbal constituency.
Omar was also in fray from Beerwah seat, in central Kashmir's Budgam district, which went to polls in the third phase.
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) patron and party chief ministerial candidate Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is seeking re-election from Anantnag constituency in south Kashmir.
Depending on the eventual party positions in terms of seats won, either Omar or Sayeed is likely to be the front-runner for the chief minister's post.
Other prominent candidates who are in fray include J&K Assembly Speaker Mubarak Gul, Omar's close confidante Nasir Aslam Wani, Congress ministers Peerzada Mohammad Sayeed and Ghulam Ahmad Mir, and PDP's Abdul Rehman Veeri and Altaf Bukhari.
The campaign in the four districts was by and large peaceful but militants hurled a grenade at a police station in Anantnag town on Thursday, resulting in injuries to three policemen.
The ultras also planted an IED under a culvert in Shopian district on the same day but the explosive was detected by security forces and defused by a bomb disposal squad.
Security arrangements in all the four districts have been strengthened to ensure peaceful polling.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, BJP president Amit Shah, Union Minister of State Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, cricketer-turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu and Bollywood actor and party MP Vinod Khanna campaigned for BJP candidates in the seats going to polls in the fourth phase.
The BJP, which is making its first serious bid for power in Jammu and Kashmir, has come out all guns blazing to make its presence felt in the Valley.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and Pradesh Congress Committee president Saifuddin Soz also campaigned for their candidates. Omar, working president of the NC, was the only star campaigner for his party in the absence of his father and former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, who is undergoing medical treatment in London.
Omar crisscrossed the four districts to campaign for his party candidates including himself.
PDP's Sayeed and party president Mehbooba Mufti also campaigned for their party candidates.
Of the 18 seats going to polls tomorrow, the ruling NC had won nine in 2008 while the opposition PDP bagged six seats. Congress had won two seats while National Panthers Party clinched the Samba seat in Jammu region.
With the fourth phase, the polling process will come to an end in Kashmir Valley as all the 20 seats going to polls in the fifth and the last phase on December 20 are in Jammu region.
On the 15 Assembly seats of Jharkhand that go to polls today, a total of 43,48,709 voters are eligible to decide the fate of 217 candidates, including 16 women.
Adequate security arrangements have been made in all the 15 constituencies with many being Maoist-hit.
Polling in the worst-hit Maoist areas in the previous three rounds passed off peacefully.
CM Marandi, whose fate has already been sealed in the third of the five-phase polling from Dhanwar, is among the 13 candidates in the fray from the Giridih seat this time.
He had represented Giridih in the Lok Sabha in the previous House.
Polling will end at 5 PM in Dhanbad and Bokaro while the EVM will be sealed at 3 PM in the rest of the constituencies.
Jharkhand Disaster Management Minister Mannan Mallick (Congress-Dhanbad), Tourism Minister Suresh Paswan (RJD-Deogarh) and Building Construction Minister Haji Hussain Ansari (JMM-Madhupur) are in the field, besides 11 MLAs seeking re-election.
The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha and the Bahujan Samaj Party have fielded the maximum of 14 candidates each followed by the Jharkhand Vikas Party (Prajatantrik-13 candidates), CPI (three) CPI (M) and NCP in two seats each.
The fourth phase seats include Madhupur, Deogarh (SC), Bagodar, Jamua (SC), Gandey, Giridih, Dumri, Bokaro, Chandankyari (SC), Sindri, Nirsa, Dhanbad, Jharia, Tundi and Baghmara but there is no separate seat for tribals.
With 28 candidates, Bokaro has the maximum number of contestants while Jamua, Chandankyari and Tundi have the minimum of ten candidates each.
In all, 716 out of 3,718 polling stations are marked as highly sensitive and 2007 as sensitive and only 615 polling station locations are situated in urban areas.
The Election Commission assigned 335 polling stations for webcasting.
The EC has also deployed 27,410 polling personnel across the 15 constituencies with 5,482 Control Units for EVM and 6,978 ballot units.
VVPAT (Voter verified paper audit trail) will be used in a combined total of 917 polling stations in Bokaro and Dhanbad. The Election Commission has also deployed 15 general observers, six expenditure observers, two police observers, two awareness observers and 1,069 micro observers, according to EC sources.
Polling to 50 of the 81 seats has already been concluded in the previous three phases.
(With Agency Inputs)