SHIMLA: As voters queue up outside the polling booths to elect the next government in Himachal Pradesh, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is facing a tough fight as Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has also entered the fray besides Congress.
The state is witnessing a multi-cornered fight between the political parties and key challengers on the issues of common man especially old pension sche and inflation in the hilly state.
A total of 55.92 lakh voters will decide the fate of 412 candidates, including 24 women, in the Assembly elections today.
While the BJP is eying on retaining power in the state overturning the trend of an alternative government in the state since 1982, while Congress is trying to build its faith in its '10 guarantees' that the party has promised to deliver on if it comes to power.
The Aam Aadmi Party is also aiming at making inroads into the hill state hoping to present a strong performance in the polls. However, both BJP and Congress are also fighting the problem of rebels on some seats.
On one side BJP which is eying to change the trend of alternate government has promised for the implementation of the Uniform Civil Code, eight lakh jobs in the state, 33 per cent reservation for women in government jobs and educational institutions.
While Congress which is the oldest party in the country has promised to fulfil the long pending demand of the hilly state of the Old Pension Scheme.
The party has also promised to give 1 lakh government jobs. To woo women, who form 48 per cent of the electorate, Congress has promised Rs 1,500 per month to each of them aged between 18 and 60. It has also promised 300 units of free electricity.
Besides these three parties, parties like Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India (CPI) and Rashtriya Devbhumi Party (RDP) are in the fray.
The key constituencies include Seraj from where Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur is contesting again. Congress has put up Chetram Thakur who had contested from the seat last time also. Mahinder Rana is the CPI-M candidate.
Congress legislature party leader Mukesh Agnihotri is contesting his fifth election from the Haroli assembly segment in the Una district. BJP has pitted state spokesperson Ram Kumar against him.
Former Himachal Pradesh Congress chief Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu, seen as a chief ministerial aspirant, is contesting from Nadaun. The BJP has fielded Vijay Agnihotri.
Hamirpur has an independent candidate Ashish giving close contest to other candidates of the political parties. Former Himachal Minister and Congress leader Asha Kumari is contesting from Dalhousie. She is pitted against BJP's DS Thakur and AAP's Manish Sareen.
Senior Congress leader Kaul Singh Thakur is again fighting from his traditional seat of Darang against BJP's Puran Chand Thakur and AAP candidate Sunita Thakur.
Vikramaditya Singh, son of former Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, is recontesting from Shimla rural. BJP has fielded Ravi Mehta from the seat. In Shimla Urban, Congress' Harish Janartha is taking on BJP's 'chaiwala' candidate Sanjay Sood. AAP's Chaman Rakesh Ajta and CPI-M's Tikender Singh Pawar are also in the fray.
In Nurpur, BJP has fielded a new candidate Ranveer Singh who is fighting against Ajay Mahajan of Congress and Manishi Kumari from AAP. Bhawani Paathania, who won the recent by-election from Fatehpur, is fighting against BJP minister and candidate Rakesh Pathania.
AAP has fielded former Himachal minister Rajan Sushant. In Nagrota, Congress candidate RS Bali is fighting against BJP candidate Arun Kumar Mehra and APP candidate Umakant Dogra.
Speaker of Himachal Pradesh Assembly Vipin Parmar is fighting from Sulah against Jagdish Sapheia and AAP candidate Ravinder Singh. In Sujanpur, Congress has again fielded Rajinder Singh Rana who defeated former Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal in the 2017 elections.
BJP has fielded Ranjit Singh from the seat and AAP has fielded Anil Rana. Dr Janak Raj of BJP is taking on senior Congress leader Thakur Singh Bharmauri from Bharmaur.
AAP has fielded Prakash Chand Bharadwaj. In Jubbal Kotkhai, the Congress has fielded sitting MLA Rohit Thakur. He is fighting against Chetan Singh Bragta of BJP.
CPI-M has fielded Vishal Shangta and Shrikant Chauhan is AAP candidate. Former Congress state chief Kuldeep Rathore is pitted against CPI-M's Rakesh Singha, BJP's Ajay Shyam and AAP's Attar Singh. Minister Suresh Bhardwaj was shifted from Shimla to Kasumpti.
Congress candidate Anirudh Singh and CPI-M candidate Kuldeep Singh Tanwar are also in the fray Voting is all set to take place on all the 68 Assembly seats of the state, the majority of which (44) had come in the BJP's bag in the 2017 Assembly polls, with Congress being restricted to just 21 seats.
The voters need to carry their Electors Photo Identity Cards (EPIC) and show it at the polling booth. They may also carry one ID besides their photo voter slips.
According to the Election Commission, a total of 55,92,828 electors of which 27,37,845 are women, 28,54,945 men and 38 were third-gender, will decide the faith of 412 candidates. This time, the representation of woman candidates is 24.
Meanwhile, 67 companies of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) comprising 6,700 personnel and 15 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) companies have been deployed to hold free and fair Assembly polls in Himachal Pradesh.
Besides this, 50,000 government employees have been put on poll duty. As many as 25,000 police officers are also stationed across the state. Teams from the National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) and the State Disaster Relief Force (SDRF) comprising 800 personnel have also been posted.
The votes will be counted on December 8. In 2017, BJP swept the Himachal polls, bagging 44 of the total 68 seats while Congress managed to get just 21 seats.