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I N D I A     V O T E S

Punjab
Focus shifts to Majha-Doaba region
Jalandhar, May 7
With the completion of the polling in the core Malwa belt comprising the Bathinda, Ferozepur, Patiala and Sangrur Lok Sabha constituencies, the focus has now shifted to the Majha-Doaba region where some big names such as Mohinder Singh Kaypee, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Vinod Khanna and Hans Raj Hans are in the fray.

Ludhiana
Tewari, Galib eye migrant votes
Ludhiana, May 7
This constituency, covering the financial capital of Punjab, has turned more urban than rural with major villages and towns included in other constituencies following delimitation.

Cockfights assume political colour
A group of people in Dhakka Colony, Ludhiana, enjoys a cockfight. Ludhiana, May 7
With election fever at its peak, the cockfights in the slums of Ludhiana, too, have assumed a political colour these days.


A group of people in Dhakka Colony, Ludhiana, enjoys a cockfight. Tribune photo: Rajesh Bhambi


Voters travel on a motor-rickshaw to a polling booth near Singur, 50 km from Kolkata, on Thursday.
OFF TO POLL MELA: Voters travel on a motor-rickshaw to a polling booth near Singur, 50 km from Kolkata, on Thursday. — Reuters

Himachal Pradesh
BJP, Cong fight war of hoardings
Mandi, May 7
In their last-ditch efforts to woo over 46,06,674 voters in the state, who have kept their cards close to their chest so far, the ruling BJP and the Congress have launched intensive campaigns through loudspeakers, hoardings, banners and posters on the national and state highways and in the key centres in each constituency.

Dhumal’s son on sticky wicket
Anurag Thakur, cricket-crazy son of Himachal Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, seems to be on a sticky wicket in the Hamirpur parliamentary constituency.

Kashmiri women wait for their turn to vote in Mahawara village in Budgam district on Thursday.
Kashmiri women wait for their turn to vote in Mahawara village in Budgam district on Thursday. — AFP

Religion takes break from politics
Leh, May 7
A poster taped on the door of the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) office says, “No political discussion”. And it very much sums up the mood in the hallowed confines of this influential religious organisation, which was ironically instrumental in disbanding political parties in Leh, a Buddhist-majority district, in previous elections and rallying the Buddhist population behind a common candidate.

Hardwar
Parties go all out to net Dalit, Muslim votes
Dehradun, May 7
With the final phase of electioneering in full swing, major political parties, apart from bringing in their star campaigners, are also working hard at the micro-level by influencing major castes and communities in their respective constituencies.





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Punjab
Focus shifts to Majha-Doaba region
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Jalandhar, May 7
With the completion of the polling in the core Malwa belt comprising the Bathinda, Ferozepur, Patiala and Sangrur Lok Sabha constituencies, the focus has now shifted to the Majha-Doaba region where some big names such as Mohinder Singh Kaypee, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Vinod Khanna and Hans Raj Hans are in the fray. So far electioneering in this region has remained cool. But it is expected to generate some political heat from now on.

In fact the elections in the core Malwa belt especially in the Bathinda constituency had reduced election activity considerably in other regions of the state. Most of the Akali and Congress activists had shifted their base to the Bathinda area to help candidates of their respective parties but they will return today to their respective areas.

There are reports that from tomorrow, SAD supremo Parkash Singh Badal, his son Sukhbir Singh Badal and other party leaders will be shifting to the Majha and Doaba regions to campaign in support of their party candidates. Congress leaders, including Amarinder Singh, will also now focus on these regions.

Actually, the Majha-Doaba region is virtually “leaderless”. It has no leader of the stature of Parkash Singh Badal , Amarinder Singh, Rajinder Kaur Bhattal and Sukhbir Singh Badal. That is why politicians of this region have to depend on Badal, Amarinder Singh, Bhattal and Sukhbir, who are all from the Malwa region, for campaigning in their support.

There were times when leaders of the stature of Partap Singh Kairon, Harkishan Singh Surjeet, Swaran Singh, Mohan Singh Tur, Darbara Singh, Sat Pal Dang and Dr Baldev Parkash, who belonged to this region, dominated the political scene not only of Majha and Doaba but also entire Punjab, and even beyond that.

Of course, the Majha-Doaba region has a crop of young promising leaders but none of them so far has attained the stature of Kairon, Surjeet, Swaran Singh, Darbara Singh or even Umrao Singh. The influence of these new leaders is confined to their immediate periphery.

Kairon, who laid the foundation of development to build modern Punjab, remained the Chief Minister of Punjab from 1956 to 1964. He left a distinct mark on the history of the state. Swaran Singh, who won four times in a row from the Jalandhar Lok Sabha constituency( 1957-1971), served as the country’s Foreign Minister for a long time. Harkishan Singh Surjeet, the CPM leader, remained a popular figure at the national level for several years. Mohan Singh Tur as president of the Shiromani Akali Dal made his mark in politics. Darbara Singh became the Chief Minister of Punjab in 1980.

For the past several years, especially after the demise of Kairon, political leaders from Malwa have been dominating the political scene of the state. After Kairon, most of the Chief Ministers of Punjab have been from the Malwa region. The incumbent Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who has become the Chief Minister for the fourth time, belongs to the Bathinda area, the core of the Malwa region. Earlier, Chief Ministers, including Amarinder Singh, Harcharan Singh Brar and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, were all from the Malwa region. The late Giani Zail Singh, who was the Chief Minister of the state and later the President of India, was also from the Kotkapura area of the Malwa region.

Among the promising leaders of the Majha and Doaba regions are Mohinder Singh Kaypee, working president of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee, Navjot Singh Sidhu of the BJP, Adesh Partap Singh Kairon, Sukhpal Singh Khaira, Partap Singh Bajwa, Ashwani Sekhari, Manoranjan Kalia, Tikshan Sud, Avinash Rai Khanna, Om Parkash Soni, Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa, Sukhbinder Singh Sarkaria and Bikram Singh Majithia. But they will have to work more to extend their reach across the state like top leaders from the Malwa region.

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Ludhiana
Tewari, Galib eye migrant votes
Sanjeev Singh Bariana/Kanchan Vasdev
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 7
This constituency, covering the financial capital of Punjab, has turned more urban than rural with major villages and towns included in other constituencies following delimitation.

The contest has once again narrowed down between the Akalis and the Congress. With barely a week to go for the polls, it is anybody’s game. This, however, does not rule out other players, who can play spoilsports for either of the two parties.

Congress national spokesman Manish Tewari, fighting the outsider tag despite contesting from the seat for the second time, is pitched against a former Congressman, Gurcharan Singh Galib, who is accused of being an inactive parliamentarian. Galib had wrested the seat twice earlier but under the Congress flag. This time, he moves around more with the saffron flags, seeking votes for the party he used to criticise when he was a Congressman.

The Congress had won the seat six times sending a representative in 1957, 1969, 1971, 1980, 1992 and 1999 to the Lok Sabha. The Akalis did it in 1962, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2004.

While there appears to be a direct contest between Tewari and Galib, candidates like Kehar Singh Ramgarhia of the BSP and two migrant candidates, including TR Mishra and Shambhu Kumar Singh, will affect their performance. Since migrant vote is also a major factor, both are eyeing those votes. Already the exclusion of 400 villages has hit the Akalis more, being a party with a largely rural base.

During the last elections also, the Lok Bhalai party supremo, Balwant Singh Ramoowalia, had tilted the balance in Akalis’ favour by polling a remarkable 1,87,787 votes. SAD candidate Sharanjit Singh Dhillon had emerged the winner by securing 3,29,234 votes while Manish Tewari had lost by a margin of 29,540 votes.

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Cockfights assume political colour
Manav Ghuman
Tribune News Service

Ludhiana, May 7
With election fever at its peak, the cockfights in the slums of Ludhiana, too, have assumed a political colour these days.

The dwellers, who enjoy this illegal bird sport throughout the year, have now started naming their birds after leading candidates in the fray.

No wonder that cocks are named after SAD candidate from Ludhiana GS Galib and Congress candidate Manish Tewari. As the combat starts and betting reaches its peak, the slum dwellers cheer the cocks addressing them as Galib and Tewari.

“In any case, politics, at least in this state, is not less than a cockfight. So we thought why not name our birds as the candidates,” Dulari, a slum dweller said.

Cockfights are the customary way of entertainment for the inmates of these slums at Pakhowal Road, Dhakka Colony and Tajpur Road. But with the election season at its peak, they have given a new dimension to this traditional fight of the birds.

While the “cockfight” in elections involves a huge sum of money, the dwellers bet for paltry Rs 20 to 50 for every fight.

“We are bored by the cacophony of electioneering, claims, counterclaims and shadow boxing by candidates fighting elections and this is a lighter way to enjoy the gimmicks in the game of politics,” adds Dulari.

The two most popular cocks of the area are ‘Badshah’ owned by Babu Ram and ‘Johny’ owned by Arvind. Each bird is priced at Rs 5,000 but their masters are not ready to part with their prized possessions. “Sometimes villagers take the cocks from us to make them a part of the rural games at nearby villages like Mullanpur, Narangwal and Jagraon. But one person from our side always accompanies the bird,” adds Babu Ram. “What we are doing is just a reflection of the real situation. In reality also, political parties are fighting and putting blame on each other. We enjoy all this by making the cocks fight,” adds Arvind. After elections are over, cricket will be on the agenda of these cockfights.

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Himachal Pradesh
BJP, Cong fight war of hoardings
Kuldeep Chauhan
Tribune News Service

Mandi, May 7
In their last-ditch efforts to woo over 46,06,674 voters in the state, who have kept their cards close to their chest so far, the ruling BJP and the Congress have launched intensive campaigns through loudspeakers, hoardings, banners and posters on the national and state highways and in the key centres in each constituency.

Except for the CPI-CPM and the BSP, which have not registered any significant presence as far as the “war of hoardings and posters” is concerned, the main rivals — the Congress and the BJP — are leaving nothing to chance to woo the voters across the state.

Adding to the hoardings and posters is the use of loudspeakers in campaign vehicles that tour key towns like Banjar, Ani, Kullu, Karsog, Rampur Bushair, Reckong Peo and other towns. “The election noise has increased, but the voters are keeping their cards close to their chest in most of the regions,” comments Moti Ram and Dhabe Ram, workers in the NREGA scheme in Banjar. “It is fifty-fifty here,” is the frequent reply when voters are questioned as to who will win in the elections.

The Congress hoardings present the party’s prime ministerial candidate, Dr Manmohan Singh, party president Sonia Gandhi along with Virbhadra Singh, former Telecom Minister Sukh Ram and state Congress president Kaul Singh Thakur with the slogan, “Varsho ka saath hamara, har vikas mein haath hamara.”

The BJP is not far behind presenting the party’s prime ministerial candidate LK Advani, Chief Minister PK Dhumal, national vice-president Shanta Kumar, president Rajnath Singh and state president Jai Ram Thakur on the hoardings. The hoardings also sell the BJP government’s pet line, “Vaydon se jayada kaam.”

The BJP candidates, Anurag Thakur (Hamirpur), Maheshwar Singh (Mandi), Rajan Sushant (Kangra), Virender Kashayap (Shimla) figure on different hoardings and banners along with local star campaigners. So is the case with the Congress’ Dhani Ram Shandi (Shimla), Chander Kumar(Kangra) and Narinder Thakur (Hamirpur).

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Dhumal’s son on sticky wicket
Pradeep Sharma writes from Hamirpur

Anurag Thakur, cricket-crazy son of Himachal Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, seems to be on a sticky wicket in the Hamirpur parliamentary constituency.

With both the BJP and the Congress trying to cash in on the legacy of late BJP stalwart Jagdev Chand Thakur, whose son Narender Thakur is giving sleepless nights to Dhumal junior, it is anybody’s game in the constituency where Dhumal family’s prestige is at stake.

In fact, the Congress seems to have bowled a googly to Anurag, who is also the president of the Himachal Cricket Association, by fielding Narender and replacing cricketer Madan Lal at the eleventh hour. While Narender enjoys the “insider” tag, Anurag is battling the “outsider” tag given due to his Jalandhar connections.

Battling anti-incumbency and rampant factionalism in the party in the 11 Assembly segments, Anurag faces an uphill task in retaining the prestigious seat, which he won by a huge margin of nearly 1.75 lakh votes in the byelections last year.

This is perhaps the reason why Dhumal has put his heart and soul into the election campaign to ensure victory for his son on the slogan of “vaidae se jiada” (more development than promises).

Hamirpur has traditionally been a pocket borough of the BJP as the party has registered five successive wins in the last five Lok Sabha elections and byelectios since 1998. However, this time around, Narender, who joined the Congress ahead of the current parliamentary elections, is hoping to break the jinx.

The Congress is also faced with factionalism with the Vidya Stokes faction allegedly not campaigning for the party candidate.

Congress sources claimed that given the fact that Dhumal family’s prestige was at stake, senior Congress leaders were leaving no stone unturned to wrest the seat. While AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi will campaign for Narender in Una on May 11, former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh would pitch in at Hamirpur on May 10.

Observers said another worry for the BJP is that party MLA from Hamirpur Urmil Thakur, sister-in-law (bhabhi) of Congress candidate Narender, had allegedly been sidelined by the party high command.

With Narender’s mother Raj Kumari throwing her weight behind her son terming him as Jagdev Chand’s “real heir”, the contest had become interesting.

Since both the candidates are Thakurs, the division among the electorate of the dominant Rajput community cannot be ruled out. Other dominant sections such as the Brahmins and the OBCs may tip the scales in favour of the candidates. This coupled with the general indifference of the party workers and the voters to the elections have sent the candidates in a tizzy. With development on the top of the Congress and the BJP agenda, local issues, including factionalism and bijli, sadak and pani will play a crucial role in the May 13 elections in the state.

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Religion takes break from politics
Kumar Rakesh
Tribune News Service

Leh, May 7
A poster taped on the door of the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA) office says, “No political discussion”. And it very much sums up the mood in the hallowed confines of this influential religious organisation, which was ironically instrumental in disbanding political parties in Leh, a Buddhist-majority district, in previous elections and rallying the Buddhist population behind a common candidate.

“Religion in politics does not pay. We learnt this lesson the hard way and decided to shun politics altogether,” its president Lobzang Rinchen, a former paramilitary official, says.

Thupstan Chhawang, the sitting MP from the Ladakh United Territory Front, who is not fighting this time, was the prime beneficiary of Buddhist consolidation in the 2004 parliamentary elections and won. His party, though, is also the prime loser this time as the LBA has made a clean break from politics and a wary Chhawang, who lost last year’s Assembly elections due to absence of religious polarisation, has put up a woman candidate, a political greenhorn. The LBA almost commandeered political leaders, including the present Congress candidate P Namgyal, under the banner of the LUTF in 2004 to make common cause for Union Territory status for the Ladakh region, but cracks soon appeared among politicians driven by conflicting ideologies and their feud vertically divided the LBA itself.

“The administration sealed our office. Those were the worst days,” LBA’s general secretary PT Kunzang says. Rinchen adds that their involvement in politics was also affecting their say among other groups, including of Muslims living in Leh. It was amidst this internal strife that Rinchen took over in May, 2008, and drove politics out of the LBA’s door. The Congress hopes to benefit from this.

But if the LBA learnt its lesson the hard way, the same perhaps cannot be said about Muslim-majority Kargil, another district in Ladakh which along with Leh makes up this parliamentary seat.

Islamia School’s sway over the district’s political affairs is so much that the Congress was reportedly forced to opt for a candidate from Leh district after its first choice candidate, Gulam Raza, was found unacceptable to the religious organisation. Buoyed by Islamia School’s support, senior National Conference candidate and former MP, Gulam Hassan, is out to spoil the Congress’ prospects by fighting as an Independent even as his party is in alliance with the Congress.

Another Independent candidate, Asgar Ali Karbalie, has thrown his hat into the ring on the support of a rival religious body, the Imam Khomeini Memorial Trust. Congress workers say Karbalie may eat into the votes of Hassan and help Namgial.

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Hardwar
Parties go all out to net Dalit, Muslim votes
SMA Kazmi
Tribune News Service

Dehradun, May 7
With the final phase of electioneering in full swing, major political parties, apart from bringing in their star campaigners, are also working hard at the micro-level by influencing major castes and communities in their respective constituencies.

Both the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress leaders are campaigning aggressively to win over major caste combinations in their favour. In the pursuit, senior national leaders of various castes and communities are being invited for campaigning.

In Hardwar, since nearly half of the population comprises Dalits and Muslims, leaders of these communities are being involved into electioneering.

Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, a Dalit leader, was in the constituency seeking votes for Congress candidate Harish Rawat on Wednesday. Notably, since the constituency has nearly 25 per cent Dalit voters, state Congress chief Yashpal Arya, a Dalit leader, would also be joining the campaign soon.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati would be addressing a rally in Hardwar on May 11, the last day of electioneering. Nasimuddin Siddiqui, a minister from Uttar Pradesh, would also be visiting the Muslim- dominated areas in the constituency.

Congress has invited former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad to influence Muslim voters in the area. To win over Saini voters, who are also a sizeable chunk in Hardwar, Congress has invited Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP star campaigner Narendra Modi has already addressed an election rally in Hardwar while other senior leaders, including Sushma Swaraj, would soon do so.

For Rajput voters, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shiv Raj Singh Chauhan would be visiting Bahadarabad area and to garner Gujjar votes, Uttar Pradesh Gujjar BJP leader Hukum Singh would be brought in.

Samajwadi Party would be bringing in their star campaigners - Amar Singh and Manoj Tiwari - to influence voters who originally hail from eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, but are residing in Hardwar.

In a bid to woo Muslim community, Congress candidate Harish Rawat has been trying to elicit support from the leaders of Teli, Gadha, Jojha and Ansari communities of Muslims.

In the bargain, even small-time leaders of various castes and communities are basking in the glory of attention showered on them by various political parties.

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Poll Buzz
EC reprimands 2 candidates

NEW DELHI: The Election Commission on Wednesday reprimanded Trinamool Congress candidate Kalyan Banerjee and CPM candidate Prasant Pradhan for making derogatory remarks against West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, respectively. Kalyan Banerjee, a Trinamool candidate from Sreerampore parliamentary constituency, filed a reply to the Election Commission. “The commission considered the reply and found the reply not satisfactory,” said the poll panel official here. — IANS

Mobile booths

JAIPUR: Voters seem more keen to cast their ballot in Rajasthan’s Jaisalmer desert, where six mobile booths have been set up, than other places in the state. “We recorded 37.20 per cent voting in two of the mobile booths and in the other four it was 14.80 per cent in the first two hours of polling. It was much above the state’s polling percentage of 11 per cent,” a poll official said. — IANS

Polling agents held

GHAZIABAD: Two polling agents were arrested for allegedly quarrelling with each other at a polling booth in Jatanpur village in Greater Noida. District Magistrate of Gautam Budh Nagar Deepak Agarwal said the two agents quarrelled over personal issues. Though the quarrel had nothing to do with the election, they were arrested for creating a furore at the polling booth, he said. — PTI

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Pollscape
Patriotic groom

First the polling booth, then the altar. The priority was crystal clear for Ramesh Kumar, who came riding on a horse to vote in a village in Rajasthan’s Udaipur constituency before moving on to get married. “I have come straight here from my house and will go for my wedding from here. I only want to tell people how important it is to vote,” he added. “He was supposed to get married in the morning but came to the booth first because he wanted to tell people about the importance of voting,” a polling official said. — IANS

Festive time

Elections are a festive time here with some dressing in their best for the trip to the polling booth and others actually buying new clothes for the event like 85-year-old Naimuddin. “I always buy new clothes whenever I go for voting. This time too I have bought a new kurta,” Naimuddin said. Elsewhere, village women in traditional colours of Rajasthan were seen singing and dancing their way to polling centres. “It is just like a festival for us. It is only after few years that we get this opportunity and we enjoy this,” said Rekha Singh, a resident of Jaipur. — IANS

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Voter’s guide

Do candidates have to maintain a daily account of expenditure?

It is incumbent upon candidates to maintain a daily account of expenditure and to submit it to the designated officer/ election observer three times during the period of campaigning

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Pollspeak

The TC-Congress alliance is intact and there is no adverse impact on the alliance by Rahul Gandhi’s comments

— Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee

It was an unfortunate thing done to me by the party

— Jagdish Tytler on the Congress’ decision to drop his candidature

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