Chandigarh, May 23 – The counting of 1.37 crore ballots for the 13 parliamentary seats of Punjab began on Thursday morning amidst tight security, electoral officials said.
Amid reports of minor skirmishes, 65.96 per cent voting was recorded on May 19 in the seventh and final phase of the general elections.
The result will decide the fate of 278 candidates, including 24 women.
Thirty-nine companies of central forces have been deployed for the security of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) at 21 locations across the state, an official said.
The main contest in the state is between the ruling Congress and the Akali Dal-BJP combine.
However, all eyes are on two seats — Amritsar and Gurdaspur — witnessing a clash of personalities.
In Amritsar, Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri is making his electoral debut against sitting Congress MP Gurjit Aujla.
In Gurdaspur, actor Sunny Deol is the Bharatiya Janata Party candidate against Congress state President Sunil Jakhar, who won the October 2017 by-election by 1.92 lakh votes.
Political dynasties continue to dominate the state’s politics.
As many as four Congress and three Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) candidates belong to political families.
SAD supremo Parkash Singh Badal’s daughter-in-law and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur is locked in a multi-cornered contest in the SAD stronghold of Bathinda.
His son and former Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal is in fray from Ferozepur.
In Patiala, former Union Minister Preneet Kaur, wife of Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, is in the fray for the fifth time.
The three-time MP was defeated by the AAP’s Dharamvira Gandhi by over 20,000 votes in 2014. This time Gandhi is in the fray as a nominee of the Nawan Punjab Party, a new outfit.
In Ludhiana, Ravneet Singh Bittu, grandson of late Chief Minister Beant Singh who was assassinated in 1995, is seeking re-election.
Former Union Minister Manish Tewari (Congress) is in the fray from Anandpur Sahib. He is pitted against sitting Akali Dal MP Prem Singh Chandumajra.
Unlike 2014, the infighting-ridden AAP is now struggling to save its sinking ship, with several leaders either having defected or facing suspension.
Countering defections within the party, actor-comedian Bhagwant Mann, the AAP’s only hope to retain the Sangrur seat, accused party rebel leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira of being an agent of both the Congress and the Akali Dal and of engineering defections of AAP legislators to the Congress.
Of the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, the Akali Dal-BJP combine currently holds five (four Akali Dal, one BJP), while the Congress and the AAP have four each.
In the 2014 polls, Punjab saw 70.61 per cent polling.