Heavy security, social distancing as voting underway in 28 assembly seats in MP

Millions of voters on Tuesday queued up in 28 assembly constituencies across 19 districts of Madhya Pradesh for the crucial by-polls, which will decide the fate of the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the central state.

Polling began at 7am and will conclude at 6pm amid heavy police and para-military force deployment in all the assembly constituencies. The fate of as many as 355 candidates, including 22 women, is in the hands of more than 6.35 million voters casting their ballot at 9,361 polling centres in the 28 constituencies. Out of the 28 seats, 16 of fall under the Gwalior-Chambal region.

The BJP has 107 MLAs in 230-member state assembly against the Congress’ 87, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s 2, lone Samajwadi Party (SP) MLA and four Independent MLAs. One of the seats is vacant. The BJP will need eight MLAs to reach the majority mark of 115 and Congress needs to win all the 28 seats to get to the majority mark if both the parties don’t need any support from the BSP, SP or independent MLAs.

The elections are a crucial test for senior BJP leader and Rajya Sabha member Jyotiraditya Scindia who made a Twitter appeal to voters on Monday. “I request you all to vote in favour of the BJP candidates and thus strengthen Shivraj Singh Chouhan government. Every vote cast in favour of BJP will contribute to making of a prosperous Madhya Pradesh and strong India,” Scindia had tweeted.

Kamal Nath, the president of the Congress’ Madhya Pradesh unit also tweeted ahead of the by-polls. “The by-polls will be known as a different chapter in MP’s history. People will definitely give a befitting reply to those who betrayed them,” Nath said.

Read more| MP bypolls 2020: Why are they important and what do the numbers say?

Poll officials have said tight security arrangements have been made in all the constituencies and urged voters to follow Covid-19 norms in the polling booths. “As many as 84 companies of central paramilitary have been deployed at the polling booths besides 2,500 special armed force (SAF) jawans, 10,000 police personnel from the district police force, 7,000 home guards and 10,000 special police officers,” Arun Kumar Tomar, the additional chief electoral officer of Madhya Pradesh, said.

“Out of the total polling centres 3,038 polling centres have been declared critical and 358 hamlets have been identified as vulnerable hamlets. To ensure a free, fair and peaceful polling 250 flying squads and 173 static surveillance teams. There are 293 police check-posts. As many as 1493 illegal weapons have been seized and more than 1.52 lakh licenced arms were deposited in police stations,” Tomar added.

“There will not be any queue of voters in view of Covid situation as per instructions from the ECI. Instead, voters will be given coupons on entering the polling centres and a voter will be called to cast his vote in accordance with the serial number on his coupon,” Manish Singh, the collector and returning officer in Indore, said in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

The second phase of polling in the Bihar assembly elections and voting for 54 other assembly seats in 10 states including Madhya Pradesh is also underway in the first electoral test for political parties in the post-Covid-19 era. The counting will be conducted on November 10.

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