J&K, Jharkhand Assembly polls

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J&K, Jharkhand Assembly polls: Stage set for counting on Tuesday; much at stake for BJP, PDP

Srinagar/Ranchi: Counting of votes will be held on Tuesday in Jammu and Kashmir and Jharkhand which witnessed a record turnout in the multi-cornered contests to elect their assemblies.

The five-phase election in the two states which stretched for nearly a month saw 66 percent voting with authorities making massive security arrangements to prevent any attempts by militants or Maoists to disrupt the polls.

“The counting will begin at 8 am and the first trends are expected to trickle within an hour or so. All security arrangements are in place at the counting centres,” an Election Commission official said today.

In Jammu and Kashmir, where polling was held for 87 seats, the turnout was the highest after 1987 despite boycott calls by separatists and militants.

The militancy-hit state has seen a quadrangular fight among ruling National Conference, main opposition PDP, BJP and Congress, which parted ways with NC ahead of the polls.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who led NC’s bid to retain power, and Opposition PDP’s chief ministerial candidate Mufti Mohammad Sayeed are among the 821 candidates.

While Omar contested from Beerwah seat in Budgam district and Sonawar seat in Srinagar, Sayeed is seeking re-election from Anantnag Assembly segment in the south Kashmir district.

Most of the observers will keenly watch the result of Handwara Assembly constituency in north Kashmir Kupwara district where separatist-turned mainstream politician Sajjad Gani Lone is trying his luck.
Jharkhand, which has been battling Maoist violence, registered an overall 66 percent turnout for the 81 Assembly seats. The state, which was carved out of Bihar in 2000, bettered the previous mark of 54.2 percent in the 2004 Assembly polls.

Altogether 1,136 candidates, including 111 women, contested in Jharkhand an eligible electorate of 2,08,52,437, including 98,93,540 female voters. Out of the total seats, 28 are reserved for the Scheduled Tribes and nine for the Scheduled Castes.

Jharkhand, which has seen nine governments and three stints of President’s rule in 14 years, saw fractured mandates in both 2005 and 2009 Assembly Elections.

Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) headed by Chief Minister Hemant Soren is seeking to retain power in the face of challenge by BJP.

Most political observers and opinion polls are predicting a hung Assembly in Jammu and Kashmir. There are speculations about various political parties trying to work out an alliance, depending on the numbers thrown up tomorrow.

Omar’s National Conference, which was the single-largest part in 2008 polls winning 28 seats, is facing an uphill task to retain its position.

PDP, which had 21 members in the 11th Assembly, is expecting to be the single-largest party, riding on the anti-incumbency and anger among the flood victims.

However, the party leadership is silent about any post-poll alliance so far.

The ongoing elections will be a litmus test as much for BJP, which is making its first serious foray in Jammu and Kashmir to form a government, as for Congress, which will be hoping to stay relevant in the state politics following the massive rout in Lok Sabha polls earlier this year.

BJP launched an aggressive campaign as part of its ‘Mission 44+’ — the magic number required for simple majority in the state Assembly — during which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several top leaders of the party addressed election rallies across the state.

The election outcome will also judge BJP’s assessment of its chances of making inroads into the only Muslim-majority state of the country. The party did not name a chief ministerial candidate. BJP had 11 MLAs and any increase in the tally this year will be claimed as a Modi victory.

The party is hoping to make gains in the two states after wresting Haryana and Maharashtra two months ago.

While the NC is already claiming a victory, some party leaders are giving away a sense of uneasiness over the results.

Sheikh Mustafa Kamal said National Conference will sit in the opposition if it did not get the numbers to form the next government.

Congress, which had 17 MLAs, on the other hand has softened the election rhetoric. Instead of claiming to be the single-largest party, the party leaders are maintaining that no government formation will be possible without Congress involvement.

National Conference and Congress, which were coalition partners for the past six years in the state but decided to go alone in the Assembly polls, fought a bitter war of words during the election campaign.

In 2008 polls, NC had won 28 seats, Congress 17 and PDP 21. BJP had 11, Panthers’ Party 3 and CPM had one. Independents had bagegd six seats.

In Jharkhand, BJP and JMM had won 18 seats each in the last election. Congress had 13, JVN(P) had 11, AJSU had six, RJD five snd JD(U) two.

“All arrangements have been made for the counting at 24 centres across the state,” an EC official said in Ranchi.

Chief Minister Hemant Soren (Dumka/Barhait) and ex chief ministers Arjun Munda (Kharsawan), Madhu Koda (Majhgaon) and Babulal Marandi (Dhanwar/Giridih) are among the total 1,136 candidates, including 111 women, whose fate will be known tomorrow.

Other prominent candidates in the fray were Speaker Shashank Sekhar Bhokta (Sarath), ex-Speaker C P Singh (Ranchi) and all the ministers in the Hemant Soren cabinet, besides several sitting MLAs and ex-ministers.

BJP, which contested in 72 seats, has a pre-poll alliance with the AJSU party which was in the fray in eight seats and Lok Janshakti party contested one seat.

Ruling JMM contested in 79 seats.

Congress contested in 62 seats, RJD in 22 and JDU in 11. Despite their pre-poll alliance, the three partners clashed in some of the constituencies.

This is the third Assembly Elections in Jharkhand in 14 years of its existence but the state has seen nine governments interspersed with three periods of central rule.

The state has so far been ruled by five tribal chief ministers — Babulal Marandi, Arjun Munda (thrice), Shibu Soren (thrice), Madhu Koda (once) and Hemant Soren (incumbent).

BJP had formed the first coalition government under Babulal Marandi and Arjun Munda had been the head of BJP-led coalitions thrice.

The term of Jharkhand and Jammu and Kashmir assemblies ends on January 3 and January 19 respectively.

PTI

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