PUNJAB registered its highest ever voting percentage as 78.62 per cent of its 19.8 million electorate turned out to exercise their franchise for the keenly fought battle. The numbers were slightly higher than the 78.20 turnout for the 2012 Assembly polls, though less than the 85 per cent projected by the Election Commission for the bitter contest between the Congress, Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine and the newcomer Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
The districts that fared the best in voting were all in the Malwa region, which holds the maximum chunk of 69 of the 117 Assembly seats. While Mansa district saw 87.34 per cent polling, Muktsar had 85.25 polling and Faridkot 83.67 per cent. The three districts have 10 constituencies between them.
At the end of official voting time at 5 pm, there were 30,906 voters still in queue and polling went on for close to three-and-a-half hours more. The final poll percentage was declared around 10 pm.
“Most of the rush was in rural areas,” said V K Singh, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Punjab.
High turnouts are usually associated with a vote for change, but Punjab upended that theory the last time by returning the SAD-BJP alliance to power. This time, across the state, voters emerging from polling booths said that they had opted for “change”.
“Barring stray incidents of violence, polling remained peaceful,” Additional Director General of Police (ADGP) V K Bhawra, who is the nodal police officer with the Election Commission, said.
One Congressman was injured in an incident of firing in Tarn Taran district and an Aam Adami Party worker was booked for manhandling SP, Gurdaspur police, at a polling station in Kalanaur.
There were minor incidents in some other constituencies. In Majitha, Congress candidate Sukhjinder Raj Singh Lali Majithia and SAD’s Bikram Singh Majithia exchanged words outside a polling booth.
In Jalandhar Central, the death of a youth, Parkash Chand, after casting his vote led to allegations by Congress leaders against the BJP. Police later said the man was not drunk as the Congress was alleging, but appeared to have died of a heart attack. The family refused a postmortem.
In Phillaur, AAP and BSP supporters clashed and police had to intervene to separate them.
Technical snags in the VVPAT (Voter-Verified Paper Audit Trail) machine in several other constituencies interrupted voting several times. AAP requests that polling time be extended were turned down by the EC.
Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal “thanked Punjabis for peaceful polling and reposing faith in the SAD-BJP alliance”. A statement issued by Badal’s spokesman quoted him as saying, “Moved by people’s love despite negative agenda.”
Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh said in a statement that voters had “defied all fear and pressure to come out in large numbers to exercise their free choice”, which “bode well for the future of Punjab”. “The die has been cast for restoration of Punjab’s development and progressive agenda.”
Star AAP campaigner and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann, who cast his vote in Mohali but is standing against SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal in Jalalabad in Fazilka district, claimed his party would come to power and that he would defeat Sukhbir by a huge majority.