National / World

Punjab sees 57% voting amidst skirmishes


Chandigarh, May 19 (IANS): Amid reports of skirmishes and snags in electronic voting machines (EVMs), nearly 57 per cent voting was recorded till 4 p.m. for Punjab's 13 Lok Sabha seats in the final phase of the general elections on Sunday, officials said.

Voting began at 7 a.m. in Patiala, Amritsar, Khadoor Sahib, Jalandhar (SC), Hoshiarpur (SC), Anandpur Sahib, Ludhiana, Fatehgarh Sahib (SC), Faridkot (SC), Ferozepur, Bathinda, Sangrur and Gurdaspur. Polling will end at 6 p.m.

In the state capital Chandigarh, 52 per cent voting was recorded for the lone seat.

Polling was halted for half an hour at Eelwal village in Punjab's Sangrur constituency when two factions of Congress workers clashed with each other outside a polling station. Three persons were reportedly injured.

An Akali Dal worker was injured in firing at Talwandi Sabo and the party blamed the Congress for the violence. Congress activist Khushbaz Jattana was booked for the firing.

Congress candidates Gurjit Aujla, Manish Tewari and Kewal Dhillion, Union minister and Akali Dal candidate Harsimrat Kaur Badal, her estranged cousin and state Finance Minister Manpreet Badal, Patiala sitting MP Dharamvira Gandhi and cricketer Harbhajan Singh were among the early voters in the state.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his wife cast their votes in their hometown Patiala, from where the latter is contesting as a Congress candidate for the first time. She has won the seat thrice.

In the 2014 polls, Punjab saw 70.61 per cent polling while Chandigarh witnessed 73.71 per cent.

A straight contest between the Congress and the Akali Dal-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine has become three cornered with the Punjab Democratic Alliance (PDA) fielding candidates for seven seats.

However, all eyes are on Amritsar and Gurdaspur where there is a clash of personalities.

In Gurdaspur, actor Sunny Deol is the BJP candidate against Congress state President Sunil Jakhar, who won the October 2017 by-election by 1.92 lakh votes.

Donning a turban, Deol visited polling stations to observe the polling process.

He was seen greeting voters with folded hands outside a booth in the Fatehgarh Churian area.

Jumping a barricade, the star obliged when a young voter asked for a photograph.

But political dynasties continue to dominate the state politics. As many as four Congress and three SAD candidates belong to political families.

Parkash Singh Badal's daughter-in-law and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur is locked in a multi-cornered contest in the SAD stronghold of Bathinda.

Two-term MP from the seat, she is taking on the PDA's Khaira, Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) Baljinder Kaur and Congress MLA Amrinder Singh Warring.

In 2014, Harsimrat Kaur scraped through by 19,500 votes against her estranged cousin Manpreet Badal.

In Patiala, former Union Minister Preneet Kaur was defeated by the AAP's Dharamvira Gandhi by over 20,000 votes in 2014. This time Gandhi is in the fray as a nominee of the Nawan Punjab Party, a new outfit.

In Ludhiana, Ravneet Singh Bittu, grandson of late Chief Minister Beant Singh, who was assassinated in 1995, is seeking re-election.

Former Union Minister Manish Tewari (Congress) is in the fray from Anandpur Sahib. Tewari is pitted against sitting Akali Dal MP Prem Singh Chandumajra.

The Fatehgarh Sahib (reserved) seat is seeing a battle of former bureaucrats Amar Singh (Congress) and Darbara Singh (Akali Dal).

The shadow of terrorism also hangs over the electoral battle in one constituency, Khadoor Sahib. PDA candidate Paramjit Kaur Khalra's husband, Jaswant Singh Khalra, was allegedly abducted and killed by the police for exposing fake encounters in 1995, while Congress candidate Jasbir Singh Dimpa's father, Sant Singh Lidher, was gunned down by terrorists in 1986.

They are pitted against former Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee chief and Akali Dal candidate Bibi Jagir Kaur.

Unlike 2014, the infighting-ridden AAP is now struggling to save its sinking ship, with several leaders either having defected or facing suspension. Most Punjabi NRIs, who backed the AAP even with cash, have given it a miss this time.

Countering defections within the party, actor-comedian Bhagwant Mann, the AAP's only hope to retain the Sangrur seat, accused party rebel leader Khaira of being an agent of both the Congress and the Akali Dal and of engineering defections of AAP legislators to the Congress.

Of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, the Akali Dal-BJP combine currently holds five (four Akali Dal, one BJP), while the Congress and the AAP have four each.

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