Over 60 percent vote in keen Rajasthan tussle (Intro Roundup)

December 4th, 2008 - 9:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Jaipur, Dec 4 (IANS) At least 68 percent of the 36 million electorate voted across India’s largest state Rajasthan Thursday to pick a new 200-seat assembly, with pundits predicting a close finish between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.Long queues were reported right from the morning in most of the 42,212 polling centres all over the desert state where the Congress is hoping to end five years of rule by the BJP.

Nine hours of hectic balloting ended at 5 p.m. Hundreds of thousands of police and paramilitary forces kept a tight vigil during the exercise that was marred by minor incidents of violence.

The Election Commission told said in New Delhi that the turnout might cross 68 percent. Deputy Election Commissioner J.P. Prakash said: “There was heavy polling. Initial estimates say it was between 65 and 68 percent.” The turnout was 67 percent in the 2003 elections.

The polling went off “more or less peacefully”, an official told IANS in Jaipur. There were clashes between supporters of political parties and one incident of firing but it did not affect polling.

For the first time, mobile polling stations were used in the desert region of Jaisalmer bordering Pakistan to ensure voters could exercise their franchise.

“Six vehicles were pressed into service and the experiment was successful,” Prakash said.

There were some minor hiccups.

Rajasthan Governor S.K. Singh had to embarrassingly wait for over 25 minutes as the electronic voting machine at his polling centre in Jaipur developed a snag. Prakash said: “Some 150 machines had defects and they were replaced.”

There are 2,193 candidates, including 154 women, in the fray. Thursday’s polling will decide the fate of the BJP government of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje.

It will also affect the fortunes of former chief minister and Congress leader Ashok Gehlot, state Congress president C.P. Joshi, Gujjar community leader Prahlad Gunjal and Meena leader Kirori Lal Meena.

The Congress is fighting all 200 seats and the BJP in 193 while a confident Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has fielded candidates in all but one constituency.

The BJP is expecting another five-year term in office on the strength of what it says are development projects it carried out.

At present, the BJP has 121 legislators and the Congress 53. This time the contest seems headed for a nail-biting finish as both major parties are plagued by rebels and factionalism.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s BSP is desperately trying to make a dent.

The party won only two seats in 2003. But it increased its vote percentage from 2.17 percent in 1998, when it fought for the first time in the state, to 3.98 percent in 2003.

During the campaign, while the BJP harped on development, the Congress attacked the government over corruption. The BJP made a big issue of what it said was the Congress-led central government’s failure to tackle terrorism, including the terror attack in Mumbai that killed 172 people.

While the Congress sees an undercurrent in its favour, the BJP is optimistic about retaining the state.

“We will get a comfortable majority”, said Satyendra Raghav, a Congress spokesperson. “A polling as high as 60 percent clearly indicates that people want a change and we are going to come to power.”

Countered BJP spokesman Arun Chaturvedi: “We are confident of our comeback.”

Analysts are a divided lot.

“No one party seems extremely popular, so it is difficult to predict. The fight will be close with rebels creating problems for both the BJP and the Congress,” said Vijay Sharma, a political analyst.

Clashes between supporters of political parties and complaints of sluggish election staff were reported from different parts of the state.

Over 8,400 polling stations were declared “sensitive” - official euphemism to mean places that could witness violence.

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