Punjab polls: Candidates at doorsteps to woo voters amid tight security

Chandigarh, (IANS) With only a couple of hours left for the February 4 Punjab assembly elections to get unerway, leaders and workers of various political parties on Friday moved from door to door in a last-ditch effort to woo voters amid tight security in the border state.

Nearly 1.99 crore voters will decide the fate of 1,145 candidates, including 81 women and a lone transgender candidate, in polls from 117 assembly constituencies from 8 a.m. onwards on Saturday.

“All arrangements have been made to ensure smooth and peaceful polling tomorrow (Saturday),” Punjab Chief Electoral Officer V.K. Singh said here on Friday.

The security arrangements are particularly tightin the districts of Pathankot, Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Ferozepur and Fazilka in Punjab’s border belt with Pakistan.

Punjab’s borders with neighbouring Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir have been sealed by security forces and vehicles are being allowed entry only after thorough checking.

Voting for the Amritsar Lok Sabha by-election will also be held on Saturday.

Counting of votes will take place on March 11 along with those in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.

For the first time, Punjab is witnessing three-cornered contests in all 117 seats with the entry of the Aam Aadmi Party.

The undercurrent of “silent” voters has made things uncertain for the main contenders like the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance, the Congress and AAP.

The Election Commission is closely monitoring the situation in different assembly constituencies, particularly high-profile and sensitive ones.

Thousands of security personnel of paramilitary forces and Punjab Police have been stationed across all assembly constituencies, manning polling stations and buildings where the electronic voting machines (EVMs) have been kept overnight.

Candidates and their supporters switched to door-to-door campaigning after canvassing through public meetings and roadshows came to an end at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

The notable contests are in Lambi between Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal and Punjab Congress President Amarinder Singh, where AAP candidate Jarnail Singh is also in fray; in Jalalabad between Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal and sitting MPs Bhagwant Mann (AAP) and Ravneet Singh Bittu (Congress); in Patiala Urban between Amarinder and former army chief Gen. J.J. Singh (SAD); and in Lehra between former Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Congress) and Finance Minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa (SAD).

The influence of religious ‘deras’ (sects) like the Radhasoamis in Beas, Sacha Sauda in Sirsa, Sachkhand Ballan near Jalandhar and many others is being closely watched. Each one of these has lakhs of followers in Punjab and neighbouring states.

Dera Sacha Sauda’s support will help the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party combine in the Malwa belt.

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and other top party leaders too have in recent weeks visited the Radhasoami Beas dera and the Sachkhand Ballan dera to seek their support.

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