M A I N   N E W S

Punjab Votes ’07
72% outpour beats weather
Villagers lead from the front all over
Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 13
Defying inclement weather, including incessant rain and chilly winds, voters in Punjab sent out a strong message supporting democracy with a record and peaceful turnout for 115 Assembly and one Lok Sabha seats today.

On a day when it poured, voters, too, poured in large numbers at all 17,000-odd polling stations in the state to set a photo finish between the ruling Congress and the joint Opposition of the SAD and the BJP.

Final estimates put the overall polling figures at 71.97 per cent. At Nihalke village in the Zira constituency, a record 87.33 per cent polling was recorded as 448 of the 513 voters exercised their franchise.

There were several villages where polling was more than 80 per cent. Interestingly, a high polling percentage was recorded from all three regions — Majha, Doaba and Malwa — of the state reflecting people’s reiteration of their faith in the democratic process.

The political fate of all 1,038 candidates for 115 Assembly seats has now been sealed in electronic voting machines which will be opened on February 27 to declare the results.

The battle of the ballot has brought the Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh, who wants to break the 40-year-old taboo that no political party has been returned to power for a second successive term, and the SAD chief, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, seeking a fourth term as Chief Minister, face to face in what is being described as the “fiercest battle since 1966”.

Apart from a firing incident in Fazilka where a jawan belonging to a paramilitary force tried to shoot himself, only minor skirmishes between workers of the Congress and the SAD were reported from different parts of the state.

The injured jawan was rushed to Ludhiana’s Dayanand Medical College and Hospital.

Besides, a case was registered after the Congress candidate for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat, Mr Surinder Singla, allegedly slapped an Assistant Continued on Presiding Officer at a polling station in Majitha.

“Overall, the polling was peaceful,” says the Director-General of Police, Mr Rajdeep Singh Gill.

The first skirmish was reported from Lambi, the constituency from which the SAD president, Mr Parkash Singh Badal, is a candidate.

It started when Akali workers chased and manhandled a Congress worker declaring him as an “outsider” and accused him of being a “bogus voter”. This led to an altercation in which a Congress polling agent was also bashed up by the Akali workers. The Congress candidate, Mr Mahesh Inder Singh, arrived on the spot and pacified his supporters.

As the polling time came to a close at 5 pm, there were still long and unending queues at hundreds of polling stations all over the state. For instance, at Samrala there were nearly 300 voters in a queue at one polling station while the number of voters waiting to exercise their franchise at a neighbouring booth was more than 250.

Till 4.30 pm, the percentage of polling had crossed the 65 per cent mark in Samrala.

“It started on a slow note,” a Presiding Officer told The Tribune at Banga. “We had just 71 votes in the first two hours followed by 129 in the third hour. And, by 1 pm we had more than 50 per cent polling,” he said quoting inclement weather as the reason for the slow start in the morning.

“Vote is important for me. So I came on my own,” remarked 60-year-old Harjinder Kaur, a retired physically challenged teacher at Banga.

Interestingly, in the Doaba region, first-time voters, especially girls and women, outnumbered their male counterparts at most of the booths in Nawanshahr, Banga and the surrounding areas. In Ludhiana Field Ganj, it was the other way round. Not many women turned up.

The unprecedented spell of rain since Saturday morning not only prevented political parties and their candidates from setting up assistance booths outside polling stations, but many of the polling agents operated from under umbrellas.

At places, especially in Doaba, trucks covered with polythene sheets served as temporary transit points for voters, both before and after polling. Nowhere were vehicles allowed inside polling stations.



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