CHANDIGARH, Jan 30 (IANS): With a bright and sunny day at most places, thousands of people queued up outside polling booths across Punjab to elect a new Assembly Monday with nearly 40 percent of 1.76 crore voters casting their votes till afternoon, Election Commission (EC) officials said here.
Casting of votes started across 19,841 polling stations in Punjab's 117 assembly seats at 8 a.m. Monday.
The voting was peaceful at all places till afternoon. The EC received some complaints from various districts and required action was taken.
Despite the winter chill, some polling booths, especially in rural areas, saw people lining up to exercise the franchise even before the booths had officially opened. Election officials said that the voting could be 70-75 percent by the evening.
No voter was being allowed to enter polling stations without an election identity card and voter slip, officials said.
Over 73,000 security personnel, including more than 2,000 paramilitary troopers, have been deployed to ensure smooth and peaceful polling.
The fate of 1,078 candidates, including 417 independents and 93 women, will be decided by the over 1.76 crore eligible voters.
The main contest is between the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance and the opposition Congress. A third front, Sanjha Morcha, has been formed recently and is led by former finance minister Manpreet Badal's newly floated People's Party of Punjab (PPP).
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, accompanied by his son and Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal, who is also the deputy chief minister, Sukhbir's wife and Bathinda MP Harsimrat Badal and PPP president Manpreet Badal and other members of the Badal clan cast their vote Monday morning at the government primary school in Badal village, 230 km from here.
"We will win at least 80 seats. I can clearly see a wave for the Akali Dal-BJP government," Sukhbir Badal said after casting his vote.
Five Assembly constituencies -- Patiala, Lambi, Bholath, Majithia and Gidderbaha -- have been declared hyper-sensitive while 33 constituencies have been declared sensitive by the EC.
Out of 17,683,559 voters in the state, 8,361,014 are women voters.
The highest number of candidates, 16 each, are in the Jalalabad, Ludhiana-east and Patiala rural seats. The lowest number of candidates, four, are in fray in the Attari seat in border area of Amritsar district.
Parkash Singh Badal, 84, is facing his toughest political test as he is locked in a bitter triangular contest with his younger brother Gurdas Badal, 81, of the PPP and cousin Maheshinder Singh Badal of the Congress from the Lambi seat.
Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh is seeking re-election from the Patiala Urban seat while Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal, who is also the deputy chief minister, is seeking re-election from the Jalalabad seat in Faridkot district.
Amarinder Singh, who voted in Patiala, said the Congress would win more than 75 seats.
Other prominent leaders in the fray include PPP president Manpreet Badal (Gidderbaha and Maur), former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Congress, Lehragana seat) and Amarinder's son Raninder Singh (Congress, Samana seat).
"We are sure that we will do very, very well. The change is in the air, it is a change for the better. There is an acute sense of embarrassment among people that Punjab has been left behind," Manpreet Badal said after casting his vote at Badal village.
In the 2007 Assembly polls, the Akali Dal had 49 legislators with alliance partner BJP winning another 19 seats (total tally 68). The Congress had 44 legislators while five seats were won by independents.