SHIMLA MUNICIPAL Corporation (SMC), which went to the polls on Friday, recorded around 58 per cent polling to elect a new civic body to replace the CPM-led mayor and deputy mayor elected in 2012 that brought to an end the two-and-a-half-decades-long Congress dominance in the town. Thus, the civic polls have become crucial for the ruling Congress as well as for the BJP, which sees chances of the party’s return to power in the Assembly election, scheduled to be held later this year. Although sudden rain disrupted the smooth flow of voters, standing in queues earlier in the day, polling picked up again after the weather improved.
There were reports of polling continuing till 5.30 pm at some booths. Shimla Deputy Commissioner Rohan Chand Thakur, who was also the returning officer, said, “Polling passed off peacefully without any untoward incident. Barring an isolated case at one booth at Tara Hall (Kaithu ward), where a voter alleged faulty functioning of the EVM, there was no other instance. Even this was resolved by local magistrate and polling resumed immediately.” All three candidates of the ward, however, have filed a complaint with the State Election Commission and Shimla DC. Thakur put the turnout at the end of the day at 57.8 per cent, which may slightly rise after the exact count of the votes polled.
In 34 wards, the fate of 126 candidates was sealed in the EVMs for which counting will be held on Saturday, June 17, from 9 am. Though polling was held without party symbols, both BJP and Congress, besides CPM, openly campaigned for their candidates. Polling began on a sober note before picking up as the day progressed. The highest polling of 66 per cent was recorded at Nabha and Shanti Vihar followed by 65 per cent at Tutu ward. At Kaithu, a CPM stronghold, 63 per cent polling was recorded besides Bathakufar. Lowest polling of 47 per cent was recorded at Banmor ward. The Engine Ghar ward reported 53 per cent polling, up from the 10 per cent recorded till 10 am.
Early trends pointed to a dull turnout of 30 per cent till 1 pm despite a massive mobilisation by candidates and their mentors like Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, who had spent three days touring most of the streets and lanes to woo voters. Over 91,000 voters registered to vote for the civic poll. More than 185 EVMs were sent to 153 booths. Of these, 54 were in rural Shimla and 99 in urban areas. A total of 50 per cent wards were reserved for women, including three for Scheduled Castes women. According to a rule framed by the Congress in 2013 after it returned to power in 2012, the mayor would be elected from SC women. Three wards were reserved for SC men, too.
In 2012, the CPM surprised everyone by winning the posts of mayor and deputy mayor in a direct contest. BJP had 12 councillors, Congress 10 in the outgoing 25-member body. Congress had ruled the SMC for 26 years before 2012. Meanwhile, PCC president Sukhwinder Sukhu said, “There were discrepancies on the voters’ list in most of the wards. There was no address, parentage or photos of voters at some booths. Congress had been complaining of incomplete voters’ list right from the beginning.”