Voting closed today in the hill state of Himachal Pradesh, where the BJP is seeking to dislodge the Virbhadra Singh-led Congress government on the issue of corruption while deflecting attacks by rivals on demonetisation and GST. Sixty sitting MLAs were among the 337 candidates fighting for a seat in the 68-member legislative assembly of Himachal Pradesh, one of few states under Congress rule. The results along with those of the BJP-ruled Gujarat will be a bellwether of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity. As many as 7,525 polling booths were set up and 37,605 personnel deputed for poll duty in the state, which has a total of 50,25,941 voters. Voting for the Assembly, which started at 8am, came to an end at 5pm, but continued in some booths were people were still waiting to cast their votes. A total of 17,850 personnel of police and Home Guards and 65 companies of central paramilitary force had also been deployed. To ensure free and fair polls, other officials, including 29 general, three police and 22 expenditure observers as well as 1,561 micro observers were believed to have been deployed across the state. Chief Minister and Congress leader Virbhadra Singh, 10 ministers, eight chief parliamentary secretaries, Deputy Speaker Jagat Singh Negi, former chief minister and BJP leader Prem Kumar Dhumal and over a dozen former ministers are among those who have thrown their hat in the ring. The ruling Congress and the BJP, led by Dhumal, contested all 68 seats. The BSP fought for 42 seats, the CPI(M) 14, Swabhiman Party and Lok Gathbandhan Party six each and the CPI three. There are also 112 independents in the fray. Dharamsala has the maximum number of candidates at 12. Both Virbhadra Singh and Dhumal have moved out of their old constituencies.
While the Congress leader contested from Arki, the BJP leader chose Sujanpur. The 12-day high-voltage campaign, which ended on Tuesday, saw over 450 rallies by star campaigners of the BJP and the Congress. Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed seven rallies and BJP president Amit Shah, six. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi addressed three rallies. Corruption was the main focus of the BJP campaign with the party training its guns on the chief minister while the Congress hit out at the BJP over GST and demonetisation. Chief Parliamentary Secretary Mansa Ram, who was elected for the first time in 1967 from Karsog (SC), fought for the eleventh time. The election saw 19 women -- six from the BJP and three from the Congress. Seven rebels each from the two parties also contested the polls. At present, the Congress has 35 and the BJP 28 MLAs in the House. There are four independents while one seat is vacant. Web-casting was used in 2,307 polling stations for live monitoring of polling activities. Officials said 7,525 electronic voting machines (EVMs) and VVPAT paper trail machines were used. The Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail machines were used for the first time in this election. An estimated 10 per cent of the total number of EVMs and VVPATs had been kept in reserve.
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