Counting of votes will be held on Sunday in assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana in what is seen as a semi-final contest ahead of the general elections in less than six months.
The Congress, which is in power in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, and the BJP, which is ruling Madhya Pradesh, are locked in a straight fight in these three states, while K Chandrashekhar Rao-led Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) is hoping for a hat-trick in Telangana.
Pollsters have been divided on the outcome, with quite a few exit polls putting the BJP ahead in Madhya Pradesh and giving it an edge in Rajasthan while predicting that Congress has an advantage in Telangana and Chhattisgarh.
Starting with postal ballots, counting will commence at 8 am amid tight security for 230 seats in Madhya Pradesh, 90 seats in Chhattisgarh, 119 seats in Telangana and 199 seats in Rajasthan as polling on one seat in the desert state was put off due to the death of a candidate.
A three-tier security arrangement has been put in place and only people holding valid passes will be allowed to enter the counting centres, election officials said.
After wresting Karnataka from the BJP in May, the Congress is eyeing Madhya Pradesh and Telangana and is hoping to retain power in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. An impressive performance in these polls will boost the party's standing in the opposition INDIA alliance which has been formed to take on the BJP in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
The BJP is seeking to replicate the winning streak of Gujarat, where it has been ruling since 1998, in Madhya Pradesh with four-time Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan hoping to form government again. The party is also keen to win back Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh as it seeks to regain its hold in the Hindi heartland states ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
"The face of the Congress has been exposed. Only the results are to come tomorrow. The good governance that the public wanted will be found under the BJP government," Union minister Anurag Thakur said in Jaipur, adding that the people want the "double-engine" government of the BJP.
With several pollsters predicting a close fight, there were reports claiming that parties have decided to herd their winning candidates swiftly to prevent any poaching.
Karnataka Deputy Chief Minister D K Shivakumar, however, dismissed reports that he has been asked to bring winning Congress candidates from the states to resorts and hotels in Karnataka.
"No MLAs will be going anywhere. Nobody has given me a responsibility or called me. ... I am confident that we will win all the states," Shivakumar, who had made similar arrangements to bring 44 Gujarat legislators during the August 2017 Rajya Sabha elections, told reporters in Bengaluru.
The counting for 230 assembly seats in MP will be held at 52 district headquarters, officials said.
As many as 2,533 candidates are in the fray, including political bigwigs like Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his predecessor and rival Kamal Nath, in a poll that was largely a bipolar battle between the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress.
Chouhan claimed his party would retain power with a “huge majority”, while state Congress chief Kamal Nath said he had “complete confidence” in the voters of the state.
Of the 230 seats, 47 are reserved for Scheduled Tribes and 35 for Scheduled Castes.
Besides CM Chouhan (from Budhni seat) and state Congress president Nath (Chhindwara), the EVMs will also decide the fate of three BJP Union ministers – Narendra Singh Tomar, Prahlad Patel and Faggan Singh Kulaste.
It will also decide the political fortunes of BJP general secretary Kailash Vijaywrgiya who contested from Indore-1 and three Lok Sabha MPs of the saffron party – Rakesh Singh, Ganesh Singh and Riti Pathak.
Over 1800 candidates are in the fray in 199 seats in Rajasthan where power has alternated between Congress and BJP every five years in the last three decades.
“The counting of ballot papers will start at 8 pm. As many as 979 tables have been arranged for the counting of ballot papers across the state. Strong rooms will be opened in the presence of observers, candidates and their representatives,” Chief Electoral Officer Praveen Gupta said.
Gupta said that the counting of votes in EVM machines will begin at 8.30 am.
Tight security arrangements have been made in all counting centres in the state's 33 districts, including the ones affected by Left Wing Extremism (LWE), officials said.
"The counting of postal ballots will begin at 8 am. Half an hour after the postal ballots are counted, the process of counting votes from the EVMs will begin.
"A total of 90 returning officers, 416 assistant returning officers, 4596 counting personnel and 1698 micro-observers have been appointed for carrying out the counting process smoothly," Chhattisgarh Chief Electoral Officer Reena Baba Saheb Kangale said at a press conference.
A total of 1,181 candidates are in the fray, including Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, Deputy Chief Minister TS Singh Deo (both from Congress) and former CM Raman Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Patan seat, represented by Baghel, is witnessing a triangular contest with BJP fielding the chief minister's distant nephew and Lok Sabha MP Vijay Baghel.
Amit Jogi, Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J) state president and son of former CM late Ajit Jogi, is also in the fray from Patan.
As many as 2,290 contestants are in the fray in the elections, including BRS supremo Chandrasekhar Rao, his minister-son KT Rama Rao, TPCC president A Revanth Reddy and BJP Lok Sabha members Bandi Sanjay Kumar, D Arvind and Soyam Bapu Rao.
The BRS has fielded candidates in all 119 seats while the Congress gave one seat to its ally CPI. The BJP and Janasena contested 111 and 8 seats respectively in a pre-poll pact/ The Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM has put up candidates in nine segments in the city.
Several segments witnessed triangular contests making them keenly watched ones.
Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao is contesting from two segments-Gajwel and Kamareddy. In a post on X, BRS working president K T Rama Rao had earlier said, “After a long time had a peaceful sleep. Exit polls can take a hike. Exact polls will give us good news.” Dismissing some exit-poll surveys that suggested that the ruling BRS will fall short of a majority in the Assembly polls, Rama Rao had said the Chandrasekhar Rao-led dispensation will return to power with over 70 seats.
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