CHANDIGARH: Jalalabad took the lead as a provisional overall turnout of 66.5% was registered on Monday for the four byelections in Punjab that witnessed pitched battles between Congress and SAD-BJP combine. Allegations flew thick and fast amid heated exchanges between the rival parties and gunshots were allegedly fired in Ludhiana’s Dakha constituency. According to the office of the chief electoral officer, the final voting figures are likely to be different.
Terming the four bypolls as ‘overall peaceful’, chief electoral officer S Karuna Raju said that 66.5% voting was recorded till the last reports. In Phagwara assembly constituency, 55.97%, in Mukerian 58.62%, Dakha 71.64% and in Jalalabad 75.46% voting was registered.
Accusing the ruling Congress party, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) spokesperson Daljit Singh Cheema said, “SAD strongly condemnes the firing incident in Jangpur village of Dakha where an Akali worker Gopi was seriously injured. He was fired when he tried to stop Congress goons from casting bogus votes. We demand CEO Punjab to order high-level inquiry and arrest culprits.”
An election department official, meanwhile, said the gunfire incident in Dakha was not related to polling. However, notices have been issued to Congress MP Ravneet Singh Bittu and Congress candidate from Phagwara B S Dhaliwal, besides Congress MLA Kulbir Singh Zira and SAD candidate from Dakha Manpreet Singh Ayali for alleged violations of code of conduct.
Raju confirmed that one case of firing was reported from Jangpur village in Dakha after the poll party left the village in the evening. He added, “In the morning during mock poll, 11 ballot units, 11 control units and 41 VVPAT machines were replaced. One control unit, two ballot unit and 34 VVPATs were also replaced during the conduct of poll.”
He also said not a single case of disruption of poll and inducement of voters was brought to the notice of the poll commission.
Vacated after resignation of former Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA HS Phoolka, Dakha constituency had its voters wooed with high-pitch campaigning.
If chief minister Amarinder Singh held two roadshows for his close confidant Sandeep Singh Sandhu’s maiden electoral battle, top Akali leadership too threw its weight behind party nominee Ayali.
Even though Jalalabad has been an Akali pocket borough, Congress nominee Raminder Singh Awla was lodged in a straight contest with Akali nominee Raj Singh Dibipura.
SAD’s alliance partner, BJP is trying its luck on two seats — Phagwara and Mukerian — and amid speculation of BJP planning to expand its base in the state, it would be crucial for the junior partner to perform well.
Phagwara fell vacant after BJP MLA Som Parkash was elected to the Lok Sabha from Hoshiarpur while bypoll was necessitated in Mukerian due to the demise of Congress MLA Rajnish Babbi.
In Phagwara (SC), Congress candidate IAS officerturned-politician BS Dhaliwal is slugging it out with BJP’s Rajesh Bagha while nominees of AAP, BSP and the Lok Insaaf Party are also in the fray.
In Mukerian, BJP is banking on Jangi Lala Mahajan who took on Indu Bala, widow of the former Congress MLA.
Even though Congress already has 78 legislators in the 117-member House, its leaders did extensive campaigning on all the four seats.
Polling began at a slow pace in the morning and by 5 pm, it was Jalalabad that took the lead by touching the 70% voting mark.
According to a poll panel spokesperson, around 20 complaints were received by the Punjab election department from different sources, including those of social media. Over 7.76 lakh voters were eligible to cast votes for deciding the fate of 33 candidates. The results of the elections will be declared on October 24.