Shimla: Heated electioneering charged with the options of returning Congress backed UPA into power or handing it to opposition BJP led NDA front did arouse the interests of an indolent electorate in Himachal Pradesh as it recorded a 65.35 percent turnout, the highest for the state in all 16 Lok Sabha polls held till date.
Talking to Hill Post, chief electoral officer Narinder Chauhan said, “the poll ended peacefully and as many as 66 percent of the registered voters did cast their votes in the days poll.”
Of the four seats in the state, highest turnout of 69 percent was recorded in Hamirpur constituency, followed by Shimla at 65.2%; Mandi had marginally less voters at 65 percent and in Kangra it was 64.71 percent voter turnout.
Fate of 38 candidates in the fray, which include Anurag Thakur, sitting BJP MP and son of former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, Pratibha Singh sitting congress MP and wife of chief minister Virbhadra Singh and former union minister Shanta Kumar stands locked up in the electronic voting machines that were used for recording the franchise.
Polling started early in the day as there were many queued up at polling stations by 7 a.m. when polling opened for the day.
Shyam Saran Negi (97) and his wife Hira Mani (92), who were among the first voters to cast their vote on 25 October, 1951 in independent India’s first general election, were among the early birds as they reached their polling booth at Kalpa in high altitude Kinnaur district at 6.55 a.m.
Not only was he the first voter to cast his vote at the booth set up in a school from where he retired as a teacher, the election authorities and district administration honoured him with a scarf and cap, after he had voted.
Negi has a record of sort for having voted in all elections held in the country since independence. Though India’s first election was held in February 1952 but in the high altitude Kinnaur the polling was held in October 1951 before the winter set in.
Other early voters included chief minister Virbhadra Singh, who voted at Rampur, union minister Anand Sharma who voted at Shimla, former union minister Shanta Kumar who voted at Palampur, former chief minister PK Dhumal who voted at Samirpur village in Hamirpur and several other political leaders.
Local interests which usually dominate assembly elections have often resulted in high turnouts like in the December 2012 assembly polls when the turnout was 73.51% but this parliamentary poll has broken the precedent.
Whereas the voter turnout in the 2004 Lok Sabha election was 59.71% and it was marginally lower in 2009 when 58.43% of polling was recorded, but the highest poll ever recorded has been in the 1998 parliamentary election when 65.31 percent votes were cast.
The election department had deployed 25 battalion of paramilitary forces, 7500 home guard volunteers and 10,000 policemen for providing security at 7382 polling booths set to conduct the election for the 4.8 million voters registered in the state.
Representatives of 15 countries, which included those from Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Nigeria, also witnessed an Indian election from close quarters by visiting polling booths at Shimla and Solan.
Logistics of conducting the polls did involve setting out poll parties to set up booths in places like Kashapath in Rampur sub-division of Shimla district that involved reaching the last 24 kilometers on foot. The Hikkim polling station in Spiti valley, located at an altitude of 15,000 feet is at the highest place anywhere in the country.
Despite start up political party AAP and BSP having put up candidates on all four seat of Hamirpur, Shimla Mandi and Kangra, the main contest is however, between traditional rivals BJP and Congress.