Chandigarh/Panaji: Archrivals BJP and Congress will battle it out in the electoral arena when polls are held in Punjab and Goa on Saturday, with Arvind Kejriwal's AAP, debuting in assembly elections in the two states seeking to play a spoilsport for the two major contenders to power.
BJP is in government in Punjab in alliance with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) for two successive terms, while it also helms Goa, despite ally Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party having drifted away just after the announcement of elections to form a three-party combine.
The elections to Punjab and Goa, which will be followed by those in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Manipur, beginning later this month and spilling over to March, are being billed as a major test of BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity post-demonetisation.
In Punjab, 1.98 crore electors are elegible to vote to choose from among 1,145 candidates to elect a 117-member assembly, while 11 lakh voters will decide the fate of 250 nominees for the 40 seats in the tiny coastal state of Goa.
In Punjab, where SAD-BJP alliance has been in power for the past decade, tomorrow's polling will decide the fate of a number of political bigwigs, including 89-year-old Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, seeking a sixth term in office, his old political rival and Congress' CM face Amarinder Singh, who has declared it will be his last election, and Badal's son and deputy Sukhbir.
Badar Sr. Is locked in a keen battle with Amarinder for the Lambi seat, the pocket borough of the Badals. Amarinder, the scion of Patiala royal family, is also in the fray from his home town where ready to give him a run for his money is the former army chief J J Singh of SAD.
Stand up comedian and AAP MP from Sangrur, Bhagwant Mann, who is a probable candidate for chief ministership if the party wins the election, is crossing swords with Sukhbir in Jalalabad. Navjot Singh Sidhu, the voluble cricketer-turned- politician, who quit BJP to join Congress just ahead of the polls, is trying his luck from Amritsar East seat, part of his former parliamentary constituency Amritsar.
The other prominent candidates include Congress veteran and former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehragagga), Indian Youth Congress Chief Raja Amarinder Singh Warring (Gidderbaha), Badal's estranged nephew Manpreet Singh Badal on Congress ticket (Bathinda Urban).
Voting will also take place tomorrow for Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, which fell vacant after state Congress chief Amarinder Singh resigned to protest against the Supreme Court order on Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal.
Prominent candidates in the fray are BJP's Rajinder Mohan Singh Chhina, who is up against Congress' Gurjit Singh Aujla and Aam Aadmi Party's Upkar Singh Sandhu.
Goa, where chief ministership has been as fickle as the loyalties of its political leaders, tomorrow's voting will decide the fate among others of five former CM's, besides incumbent Laxmikant Parsekar. While Ravi Naik, Digambar Kamat, Pratapsinh Rane and Luizinho Faleiro are in the fray as Congress nominees, Churchill Alemao is contesting on NCP ticket.
In Punjab, all the arrangements are complete with "unprecedented" security arrangements being made for the smooth and peaceful elections.
Punjab Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) V K Bhawra said "unprecedented" security arrangements have been made for the polls as compared to arrangements made in previous elections.
"Around one lakh security personnel including paramilitary forces have been deployed in these elections," said Bhawra who is also the nodal officer for state polls.
Unlike previous polls, police check posts continued to stay at several locations before the 48 hours of the polls on the directions of the Election Commission, he said.
With Punjab set to witness a three-horse poll race, the Election Commission has set a target to achieve 85 per cent polling during 2017 assembly polls.
"The election machinery is ready for the February 4 polls," Punjab Chief Electoral Officer V K Singh said while addressing media here this evening.
He informed that voting would start at 8 AM and would go on till 5 PM for the 117 assembly constituencies.
As many as 22,614 polling stations including 14 auxiliary polling stations have been set up at 14,177 polling locations in the state, the CEO said.
Asked about the vulnerable polling stations, Singh said there are 5,500 vulnerable stations and around 800 are critical polling stations in the state.
A total of 1.98 crore voters are eligible for voting comprising 93.76 lakh women and 415 third gender. There are 4.05 lakh first time voters of 18-19 years of age, he said.
There are 364 NRI voters in the state. Besides, there are 1.05 lakh service voters in the state, he said, adding there are 65.36 lakh are urban voters while 1.33 crore are rural ones in the state.
Singh said the commission has made arrangements for completely disabled voters for bringing them from their homes to the polling stations.
Singh informed that holiday had been declared in the state under Negotiable Instruments Act in the state on February 4.
He appealed to all the candidates to send their polling agents well in time for the mock polling at 7 AM. "If polling agents do not appear till 7:30 am, we will not wait," he said.
Singh further said over 80 per cent of two lakh poll staff have been dispatched to their respective locations.
He said for the first time in Punjab, Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) will be used in 33 assembly constituencies and two at Amritsar Lok Sabha segment in the state.
VVPAT will be installed at 6,400 polling stations in the state, he said.
VVPAT is a method of providing feedback to voters. VVPAT is attached to the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) to help electors verify that their vote has been cast correctly.
There are around 35,000 EVMs with the EC for the polling.
The first time voters will also be given certificates, said the Punjab CEO.
Over 11 lakh voters in Goa are eligible to exercise their right to franchise to elect members for the 40-seat state Assembly. Voting across 1,642 polling booths in the state would begin tomorrow at 7 AM and culminate at 5 PM.
The Chief Electoral Officer, working under the guidance of Election Commission of India (ECI), has deployed trained staff to conduct polling which would be provided security cover jointly by state police and paramilitary forces.
The fate of five former chief ministers and present CM Laxmikant Parsekar will be decided in the election which is being contested by 250 candidates--131 in South Goa and 119 in North Goa. The counting of votes will be held on March 11.
There are speculations that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar might be sent back to Goa to be the next chief minister, if BJP retains power in the tourist state.
BJP, Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, and MGP and its allies are the major contenders this time.
The Arvind Kejriwal-led party, which has for the first time forayed into Goa, is contesting on 39 seats. Congress is contesting on 38 seats and BJP on 37.
BJP, which had pre-poll alliance during the 2012 Assembly polls, is going alone this time but is supporting independents in four constituencies.
The ruling party, which had projected Parrikar as the chief ministerial face in 2012, had then contested on 28 seats while Congress fought on 34 seats.
The Parrikar-led party had in 2012 garnered 34.68 per cent of vote share as against 30.78 per cent of Congress.