Shimla, May 19 (IANS) Nearly 57 per cent of over 53 lakh voters in Himachal Pradesh turned out till 4 p.m. on Sunday to elect Members of Parliament for the state’s four Lok Sabha seats in the last phase of the general election, officials said.
Women turned out in strength in the rural areas of all four parliamentary constituencies – Shimla (reserved), Mandi, Hamirpur and Kangra.
There were minor hiccups as electronic voting machines developed snags at some places.
Shyam Saran Negi, a 102-year-old voter who also participated in the 1951-52 general election which was the country’s first, cast his ballot at a picturesque hamlet in Kinnaur district.
“I have never missed an opportunity to vote,” Negi told reporters in Kalpa, some 275 kms from the state capital.
A staunch believer in democracy, the centenarian never fails to cast his vote in any election, be it Lok Sabha, Assembly or panchayat polls.
Donning traditional dresses, voters in strength exercised their franchise at Tashigang, one of the country’s highest polling stations located in Spiti at an altitude of 15,256 feet, close to the China border. The lone polling station has 49 voters.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur, six-time Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh and two-time former Chief Ministers Prem Kumar Dhumal and Shanta Kumar and former Union Minister and Congress leader Anand Sharma were among the early voters in the state.
“There has been no report of any major delay in starting the poll process,” Chief Electoral Officer Devesh Kumar told IANS here.
The main contest is between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Forty-five candidates, comprising a lone woman, are in the fray for the four seats.
With the electorate in the Lok Sabha polls traditionally favouring the party at the helm in the state, these elections are being seen as a referendum on the state’s 17-month-old BJP government.
The BJP wrested the state from the Congress in December, 2017, winning 44 seats in the 68-member Assembly. The Congress won 21 seats, independents two and the Communist Party of India-Marxist won one.
While in Mandi, Kangra and Shimla, it’s about steering his party to victory, in Hamirpur it’s a battle of supremacy between the Chief Minister and his predecessor Dhumal, who has almost been marginalised in state politics after a humiliating defeat in the 2017 Assembly polls.
From Kangra, the largest Lok Sabha constituency in the state in terms of voters, the BJP has fielded Cabinet Minister Kishan Kapoor, 68, after dropping veteran leader Shanta Kumar, against two-time Congress legislator Pawan Kajal, 44.
In the Shimla (reserved) seat, it is an ex-serviceman versus an ex-serviceman. Retired Colonel Dhani Ram Shandil, 78, is the Congress candidate against BJP nominee and former Indian Air Force (IAF) officer Suresh Kashyap, 48.
In Hamirpur, Dhumal is trying to ensure a fourth term for his son Anurag Thakur, former chief of the state and national cricket bodies. Pitted against Thakur, 44, is ex-wrestler and five-time Congress legislator Ram Lal Thakur.
Sitting BJP MP and the Chief Minister’s confidant Ram Swaroop Sharma is seeking a second term from Mandi. He is contesting against Congress greenhorn Ashray Sharma, who is the grandson of former Telecom Minister Sukh Ram.
Sukh Ram, a Congress veteran, had joined the BJP just before the Assembly elections, but defected back after his grandson was denied a ticket.
Ashray’s father Anil Sharma still remains in the saffron party and though he has not campaigned either for his son or for his party in these elections, his father is more than making up for it.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had won all four seats. The polling percentage at that time was 64.42 per cent.