Jaipur/Hyderabad: Polling began Friday morning for 199 Assembly seats out of the 200 in Rajasthan, a key State which the BJP is fighting to retain.
According to an official spokesperson, polling began at 8 AM in all the 51,687 booths set up across the State.
Polling also began amid elaborate arrangements in all 119 Assembly constituencies in Telangana on Friday morning.
Voting began at 7 AM and will conclude at 5 PM, except in 13 constituencies classified as Left Wing Extremist-affected, where the process ends at 4 PM itself.
In Rajasthan, Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje (Jhalrapatan), Congress state president Sachin Pilot (Tonk), former chief minister Ashok Gehlot (Sardarpura) are among the 2,274 candidates in the fray.
The election in Ramgarh constituency of Alwar district was put off following the death of Bahujan Samaj Party candidate Laxman Singh.
Raje, who is the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, is fighting against veteran BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s son Manvendra Singh in Jhalrapatan, the constituency she has represented since 2003. Manvendra Singh switched to Congress just before the election. She had won 63 per cent of the votes cast in 2013, winning the seat by a margin of 60,896.
Tonk, with a sizeable Muslim population, is a keenly-watched contest between Sachin Pilot and BJP candidate and Rajasthan Transport Minister Yoonus Khan, who is the saffron party’s only Muslim face in the elections.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had initially fielded sitting MLA Ajit Singh Mehta in Tonk. But in a change of strategy, the party dropped him and sent Khan to take on Pilot.
This is a maiden Assembly election for Pilot, a two-time MP who is seen as a chief ministerial possibility if the Congress wins. He has represented Dausa and Ajmer Lok Sabha constituencies in the past.
Former chief minister Ashok Gehlot, who is also seen as a chief ministerial candidate for the Congress, is contesting from Sardarpura, a constituency he now represents. Gehlot has been the Rajasthan chief minister twice.
In the current House, the BJP has 160 seats and the Congress 25.
In Telangana, over 2.80 crore electorate are eligible to exercise their franchise in the State, which has a total of 32,815 polling stations. More than 1.50 lakh polling officials, including reserve staff, are on duty.
Campaigning by political parties came to an end at 5 PM Wednesday.
Additional DG ( Law and order) Jitender Thursday said that about one lakh security personnel, including 25,000 central paramilitary forces and 20,000 from other states, are engaged in poll duties.
A senior police official said security was beefed up at bordering areas which were identified as Left Wing Extremist-affected regions.
The Assembly polls in Telangana were originally scheduled to be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections next year, but the House was dissolved prematurely on 6 September as per a recommendation by the State cabinet.
The Congress has stitched together the ‘Prajakutami’ (People’s Front) along with the Telugu Desam Party (TDP), the Telangana Jana Samiti (TJS) and the Communist Party of India (CPI), to take on the ruling TRS, which is led by caretaker Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR).
The TRS, seeking a second term in office, is going alone, as also the BJP.
It is to be seen if TRS president and Caretaker Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao’s gamble to opt for early elections pays off.
While KCR was, without doubt, the star campaigner for TRS, the Congress and the BJP fielded their bigwigs for campaigning which turned out to be a shrill one.
For the Congress, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and party President Rahul Gandhi addressed election rallies. The BJP relied on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the party president Amit Shah.
Rahul Gandhi also addressed joint meetings with TDP chief and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu.
“We will win 100 seats,” Rao repeatedly said in campaign meetings.
The BJP, which won five seats in alliance with the TDP in the last elections in 2014, said it ensured that there is a triangular fight in Telangana this time.
Meanwhile, state Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Rajat Kumar Thursday said as many as 446 flying squads were in operation in the state to swing into action if any irregularity was reported and 448 static surveillance teams would also keep a watch on the situation. They would wait in the wings to take action, he said.
Besides, 224 video-surveillance teams and 133 video-viewing teams were pressed into service. There were 126 assistant expenditure observers and 123 accounting teams.
For the first time, the Election Commission is using Voters Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) in Telangana.
As many as 1821 candidates, including a transgender, are in the fray.
The results will be out on 11 December, along with those from the other four states which saw Assembly elections in the past few weeks.
The outcome of the elections in Rajasthan, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram is expected to set the tone for the Lok Sabha contest next year.