Bhopal/New Delhi: A record 32 million people – or the population of Peru – voted Monday in Madhya Pradesh in a largely peaceful exercise, with both the ruling BJP and the Congress claiming they will win.
Only minor incidents of violence marred the polling that began at 8 a.m. to pick a new 230-member legislature barring three constituencies of Balaghat district where it started an hour earlier to foil Maoist designs.
“Madhya Pradesh voting is likely to exceed 71 percent, the highest ever turnout in the state,” Deputy Election Commissioner Sudhir Tripathi told the media in New Delhi.
Voter turnout till 5 p.m. – when the polling centres closed – was 65.45 percent.
“Despite a few incidents of violence, voting remained peaceful. The maximum voting of 83.19 percent was witnessed in Hoshangabad and minimum voting of 54.44 percent in Satna,” State Election Commission officer Jaideep Govind told reporters.
Bharatiya Janata Party’s Sushma Swaraj, leader of opposition in the Lok Sabha, tweeted after balloting ended that her party would get another five-year term to govern Madhya Pradesh.
“I am sure the BJP will win with a huge margin in Madhya pradesh, bigger than last time,” she said.
Congress leaders said the record turnout showed that people were determined to oust the BJP.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who contested from his traditional Budhni constituency as well as from Vidisha, said he was confident the BJP would retain the state.
He told the media before voting in his village in Sehore district that his dream was to make Madhya Pradesh a developed state.
Union Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath asserted that the Congress would win at least 140 seats “as people want to be free of the corrupt BJP regime”.
Despite the deployment of a large number of security personnel, supporters of candidates exchanged gunfire near four polling booths each in Bhind and Morena districts.
Border Security Force troopers opened fire near a polling centre in Morena after a scuffle.
An electronic voting machine (EVM) was damaged in Bhind and one was taken away by thugs in Morena, a region known once as bandit country.
A similar incident was reported in Seoni district.
With 2,586 candidates in the fray, the main contest was between the BJP – which has ruled Madhya Pradesh since 2003 – and the Congress.
Among the prominent BJP candidates were former chief minister Babulal Gaur (Govindpura in Bhopal), minister Kailash Vijayvargiya (Mhow in Indore) and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s nephew Anoop Mishra (Bhitarvar in Gwalior).
Prominent Congress candidates included former union minister Suresh Pachauri (Bhojpur), leader of the opposition in the assembly Ajay Singh (Churhat), Digvijaya Singh’s son Jaivardhan Singh (Raghogarh), and Sachin Yadav, son of former deputy chief minister Subhash Yadav (Kasravad).
According to the Election Commission, EVMs were replaced at 23 places.
K.B. Srivastav, a teacher on election duty in Katni district, died after a heart attack.
Not a single vote was recorded in 10 polling booths in Ratlam, Raisen, Morena, Betul, Damoh and Rajgarh districts till 2 p.m. after the residents decided to keep away in protest over local issues.
The polling began briskly despite a chilly morning. Voters queued up at many polling centres even before they opened. As the sun rose, the queues kept lengthening.
For the first time, the “none of the above” (NOTA) option – a provision voters can use to reject all candidates – was made available to voters on the EVMs.
The BJP ousted the Congress in 2003. In 2008, it retained power winning 143 seats. The Congress won 71 seats.
The Madhya Pradesh verdict will be out Dec 8 along with the results of the Delhi, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh elections. The Mizoram results will be out a day later.