Over 60 percent vote in keen Rajasthan tussle (Roundup)

December 4th, 2008 - 8:05 pm ICT by IANS  

Jaipur, Dec 4 (IANS) Over 60 percent of 36 million electorate voted across India’s largest state Rajasthan Thursday to pick a new 200-seat assembly, with political pundits predicting a close finish between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress.Long queues were reported from most of the 42,212 polling centres throughout the day 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 polling more or less went off peacefully. We are compiling the final figures but initial estimates indicate that the turnout may be over 60 percent,” a state election department official told IANS.

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 and had to be changed.

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 divided over the likely outcome.

“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.

The BJP might face more problems than the Congress as two of its leaders - Kirori Lal Meena and Vishwendra Singh - have revolted. While Meena is fighting as an independent from two constituencies, Vishwendra Singh has joined the Congress and is fighting from Deeg-Kumher constituency.

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

Violence erupted in Mahua, Nathdwara. Deeg-Kumher and Toda Bhim. “There were incidents of stone pelting and clashes between supporters of parties in some other areas,” a police officer said.

At some places the electronic voting machines had to be hurriedly replaced after they broke down while in one or two polling booths reports of snatching of EVMs was also reported.

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

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