New Delhi: In an election that is being seen as the first major test of strength for the Congress since it won a decisive mandate in the April-May Lok Sabha elections, the states of Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh went to the polls on Tuesday and recorded voter turnouts of 60%, 66% and 72%, respectively, amid sporadic violence, according to the Election Commission of India (EC).
Counting will take place on 22 October.
Out of these three Congress-ruled states, Maharashtra and Haryana witnessed a dip in voting percentages since the last assembly elections from 63.44% and 71.96%, respectively, while Arunachal Pradesh saw a jump from 64.02%.
The polls have been characterized by factors such as a weak opposition, a complacent ruling alliance and too many rebels, as well as the lack of any comprehensive election issue.
In Maharashtra, a fragmented polity has opened up the field, while in Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh, the ruling Congress seems to have a definite edge.
With some exit polls predicting an indecisive verdict in Maharashtra, major political parties have already started back room negotiations with potential allies. “The party is in touch with all the possible winners among the independents,” said a senior Congress leader in New Delhi, who did not want to be named.
The Star News-Nielsen exit poll predicted a hung assembly in Maharashtra, with the Congress winning 89 seats, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) 48, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 51, the Shiv Sena 62, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena 12, and the Third Front and others 26.
In Haryana, the exit poll predicts a clear majority for Congress with 57 seats, while it says the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) is likely to win 18 seats, the Haryana Janhit Congress nine, the Bahujan Samaj Party two, the BJP one and others three.
A total of 1,222 candidates, including 67 women, are in the fray for 90 assembly seats in Haryana. Chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, former chief minister and INLD chief Om Prakash Chautala, and the Haryana Janhit Congress supremo Kuldeep Bishnoi are among the key contestants.
In Maharashtra, 3,559 candidates, including chief minister Ashok Chavan, his deputy Chhagan Bhujbal and 37 ministers, are in the reckoning. There are 288 assembly constituencies in the state.
In Arunachal Pradesh, which has 60 assembly seats, three Congress candidates, including chief minister Dorjee Khandu, have already been elected unopposed from the predominantly Buddhist district of Tawang. Around 725,000 voters were eligible to cast their votes in favour of 151 candidates.
The Congress party’s allies at the Centre—the NCP and the Trinamool Congress—have put up 36 and 26 candidates, respectively, in Arunachal Pradesh. The Trinamool Congress is contesting for the first time in the state.
Making a choice: People queue to cast their votes at Badakal village in Haryana. Three Congress-ruled states—Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh—went to the polls on Tuesday. Manish Swarup / AP
The polls on Tuesday were marked by some outbreaks of violence.
In Maharashtra, Naxalites opened fire near Kasansur in the Aheri block of Gadchiroli district shortly before polling commenced.
Paramilitary forces were deployed across the state to ensure peaceful polls. In the Naxal-hit Gadchiroli and Chandrapur districts of Vidarbha region, contingents had been deployed to thwart any attempt by the Maoists to disrupt the election process. The extra precautions were taken after Maoist rebels shot and killed 17 policemen in the rebel-dominated area last week.
Barring the stray incidents of firing on polling stations, voting in Gadchiroli went off peacefully and 50-55% voting was recorded in the district, officials said.
In Haryana, a polling agent was killed in a clash between supporters of rival candidates in the Gulha assembly constituency in Kaithal district.
Chief election commissioner Navin Chawla downplayed the incidents, referring to them as “small incidents”.
PTI contributed to this story.