Himachal Pradesh will hold crucial assembly elections today.
The elections to 68 constituencies will be held in a single phase in the Congress-ruled state, where the Bharatiya Janata Party is determined to take power.
Officials said everything was in place for a smooth conduct of the polling in 7,525 booths.
A total of 5.25mn voters, including 1.9mn women and 14 transgenders, will decide the fate of 338 candidates, 19 of them women. The vote count will be held on December 18 along with that of Gujarat.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has fielded candidates in 14 seats while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which made its debut in the hill state in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, has preferred to stay away.
Political observers say the contest between the Congress and the BJP is neck and neck as there is no clear wave in favour of any party.
It is literally a do-or-die battle for both chief ministerial faces. Both are struggling for their political survival.
One is veteran Congress leader and incumbent Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, 83, who is pushing hard to get to the helm for a seventh time.
The other is the BJP’s Prem Kumar Dhumal, 73, who is making a strong bid to ensure the party’s win with a record margin to silence his detractors within the party.
For almost two decades, both parties in the state have fought almost every assembly and Lok Sabha polls under their leadership.
“This time, Virbhadra Singh is fighting on two fronts - one is to establish his son Vikramaditya Singh, who is contesting his maiden assembly election, and the second is to ensure the party’s repeat as he forced the Congress to announce him as the chief ministerial candidate despite all odds,” a political observer said.
For Dhumal, it’s simply the battle for “self-survival” after facing a humiliating defeat in the 2012 assembly polls. Since then, he was almost marginalised by the BJP faction led by federal Health Minister J P Nadda.
After thwarting foes within, Virbhadra Singh donned the battle gear much ahead of his arch rival Dhumal, whose name was cleared by the BJP as its chief ministerial candidate just days earlier.
Interestingly, both Virbhadra Singh and Dhumal are seeking re-election from new seats and that is not going to be easy for them.
The Congress leader is in the fray from Arki in Solan district, a BJP pocket borough that he chose himself. Dhumal is contesting from Sujanpur, the seat he was asked to contest from.
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