The assembly polls are seen as a test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity, especially in the wake of demonetisation.
After an acrimonious campaign, Goa and Punjab have begun polling on Saturday.
Goa witnesses a contest among the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Opposition Congress, new entrant Aam Aadmir Party and the three-party alliance forged by the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, the Goa Suraksha Manch and the Shiv Sena.
The polls to elect the 117-member Punjab assembly witnesses a three-cornered contest with the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine, which is battling anti-incumbency after a 10-year rule, locked in a tough contest with the Congress and the AAP.
Over 11 lakh voters in Goa are eligible to exercise their right to franchise to elect members for the 40-seat state assembly. Voting across 1,642 polling booths in the state began at 7 am and will culminate at 5 pm.
In Punjab, 1.98 crore people will be eligible to vote in the high-stake election in which 1,145 candidates, including 81 women and a transgender, are in the fray.
Over 200 companies (each comprising 80-100 personnel) of paramilitary forces have been deputed for the election in Punjab which saw a car blast barely two days before the campaign was to end in which six people were killed. The Punjab police did not rule out the incident as an act of terror.
“Election machinery is fully geared to conduct fair and peaceful polling,” an election office spokesman said in Chandigarh on Friday.
Out of the total electorate of 1,98,79,069 in the state, there are 93,75,546 women and 415 transgenders.
22,615 polling stations have been set up across the state. While 83 assembly seats are of general category, 34 have been demarcated as reserved.
The chief electoral officer of Goa, working under the guidance of the Election Commission of India, has deployed trained staff to conduct polling which would be provided security cover jointly by state police and paramilitary forces.
The fate of five former chief ministers and present CM Laxmikant Parsekar will be decided in the election which is being contested by 250 candidates — 131 in South Goa and 119 in North Goa.
There are speculations that Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar might be sent back to Goa to be the next chief minister, if the BJP retains power in the tourist state.
The Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP, which has for the first time forayed into Goa, is contesting on 39 seats. The Congress is contesting on 38 seats and the BJP on 37.
The BJP, which had pre-poll alliance during the 2012 assembly polls, is going alone this time but is supporting independents in four constituencies.
The ruling party, which had projected Parrikar as the chief ministerial face in 2012, had then contested on 28 seats while the Congress fought on 34 seats.
The Parrikar-led party had in 2012 garnered 34.68 per cent of vote share as against 30.78 per cent of the Congress.
Post the 2012 election, there were two bypolls in the state. First on May 25, 2012, when the Cortalim assembly seat fell vacant following the demise of sitting legislator and BJP minister Mathany Saldanha and the other on February 16, 2015, when Parrikar was elevated to the Union Cabinet.
In both the by-elections, the BJP candidates had won.
The current election is being fought on the plank of ‘verdict for continuation of development’ by the BJP, while the Congress has focused its campaign over the alleged U-turn on the promises by the state government.
The Congress is assuring a corruption-free government to the people of Goa.
A majority of the candidates fielded by the AAP are fresh faces. Its chief ministerial candidate Elvis Gomes has promised to put processes in place within 90 days to check corruption in the state.
The election will also test the impact of rebel Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader Subhash Velingkar on the electorate.
Velingkar’s GSM has forged a pre-poll alliance with the MGP and Shiv Sena in the state.
The AAP, which had won four Lok Sabha seats in 2014 in Punjab, has plunged into the contest in a big way with its chief Arvind Kejriwal criss-crossing large parts of the state.
The Badal family came under fierce attack from the AAP over alleged corruption, drug menace and law and order while the SAD-BJP and the Congress accused the AAP of flirting with extremists and targeted Kejriwal for being an ‘outsider’.
Kejriwal, in turn, accused Congress Chief Amarinder Singh and the Badals of being hand in glove.
Apart from the drug menace, the contentious SYL canal issue and sacrilege of holy books of Sikhs were among the major issues flagged by the electoral rivals.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi held two elections rallies in Jalandhar and Kotkapura in the state where he flagged the issue of threat from Pakistan to seek votes for the SAD-BJP combine, which he claimed alone could provide a stable government that would guarantee safety and security of the state.
Rahul took the Congress’ campaign to the pocket boroughs of the ruling Badal clan, including Lambi, Majitha and Jalalabad, to target it over alleged corruption, playing dynastic politics and promoting drugs and mining mafia.
After initial dithering, Rahul Gandhi declared Patiala royal family scion Amarinder Singh the party’s chief ministerial face. Amarinder, 74, has already announced it would be his last election.
The Congress is contesting alone on all seats.
The AAP has fielded its candidates in 112 seats, while its ally Lok Insaf Party, led by Ludhiana-based Bains brothers, have fielded nominees in five seats.
The assembly polls in Punjab are also seen as a test of Modi’s popularity especially in the wake of demonetisation. The BJP is, however, contesting only 23 seats in the state while its ally the SAD has fielded candidates in 94 seats.
Other political outfits in the fray include the Bahujan Samaj Party, former Aam Aadmi Party leader Sucha Singh Chhotepur-led Apna Punjab Party, the Left — comprising the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India-Marxist — and the SAD-Amritsar.
Key contestants whose fate will be decided include Punjab Congress Chief Amarinder Singh (Patiala and Lambi seats), Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal (Lambi) and his son Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal (Jalalabad), AAP MP Bhagwant Mann (Jalalabad), Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia (Majitha) and cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu as Congress nominee (Amritsar East).
The other prominent candidates include Congress veteran and former chief minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal (Lehragagga), Indian Youth Congress Chief Raja Amarinder Singh Warring (Gidderbaha), Badal’s estranged nephew Manpreet Singh Badal on Congress ticket (Bathinda Urban).
By-election to the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat is also taking place on Saturday. The seat fell vacant following the resignation of Amarinder Singh to protest the apex court verdict on Punjab river waters. The voters’ strength in Amritsar Lok Sabha is over 14 lakh.
Prominent among those in the fray are 66-year-old BJP leader Rajinder Mohan Singh Chhina who is up against Congress’ Gurjit Singh Aujla, 44, and AAP’s Upkar Singh Sandhu, 63.
Among the candidates for the assembly election are AAP’s Himmat Singh Shergill and Gurpreet Singh Ghuggi (Batala), Finance Minister Parminder Singh Dhindsa (SAD, Lehragagga), cabinet minister Anil Joshi (BJP, Amritsar North), BJP national secretary Tarun Chugh (Amritsar Central), and Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu (Jalalabad).
Counting of votes will take place on March 11.