Jaipur: More than 68 per cent of the electorate in Rajasthan voted by 5 pm on Saturday in a bipolar contest involving the Congress and the BJP to elect the new state government, with polling passing off peacefully barring a few stray incidents of violence.
Polling at more than 51,000 polling booths in 199 assembly constituencies began at 7 am and ended at 6 pm, but officials said those already in queue at the polling booths would be allowed to vote.
In the last assembly elections in 2018, the state recorded a voter turnout of 74.06 per cent. The Election Commission has set a target of at least 75 per cent turnout in each constituency this time.
Nearly 10 per cent of the electorate cast their votes in the first two hours of voting and the figure went up to nearly 25 per cent by 11 am and to more than 40 per cent by 1 pm.
The voting percentage till 5 pm was 68.24 per cent, an official said. Polling in the Karanpur assembly constituency in Sriganganagar has been postponed due to the death of the Congress candidate.
The votes will be counted on December 3. Two people - a polling agent of a candidate and an elderly voter - died of cardiac arrest at polling booths in Pali and Udaipur districts.
There are more than 5.25 crore registered voters in 199 seats while 1,862 candidates are in the fray. The Election Commission had made elaborate arrangements to ensure smooth polling. More than 1.70 lakh security personnel have been deployed across the state.
In Sanwler village of Kaman in Deeg district, two persons including a policeman were injured in stone-pelting. "Police fired 12 rounds in the air to disperse the crowd. Voting was disrupted for a few minutes due to the incident," Deeg Superintendent of Police (SP) Brijesh Upadhyay said.
In Sikar's Fatehpur, two groups clashed and a jawan was injured in the violence. "Stone pelting occurred outside a polling booth. One jawan was injured in the stone pelting. No civilian was injured. Around 5-7 persons have been detained," Fatehpur DSP Ram Pratap said.
An altercation occurred between a polling agent and a person outside a polling booth in Dholpur's Bari seat. "Two vehicles were damaged in the ensuing violence. Polling was stopped for some time and resumed later," Dholpur Collector Anil Kumar Agarwal said.
In Uniara of Tonk district, 40-50 people tried to enter a polling booth. However, the situation was brought under control, SP Rajarshi Raj said.
The election in the desert state is a direct contest between the ruling Congress and the opposition BJP. The Congress is aiming to buck the trend of the ruling party being voted out every five years, while the BJP is eyeing a return in the state ahead of the Lok Sabha polls next year.
Many voters, including youngsters and the elderly, queued up at polling centres well before 7 am. "I got ready by 6 am, called up my friends and reached the polling booth so that we are the first ones to vote," Himanshu Jaiyaswal, a college student, told PTI at a polling booth in Nitin Public School in Malviya Nagar.
"This is the festival of democracy and all should participate in it," Jai Singh, another voter, said. Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Union ministers Gajendra Singh Shekhawat and Kailash Chaudhary, former chief minister Vasundhara Raje and former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot were among the first ones to cast their votes. Gehlot and Shekhawat cast their votes in Jodhpur, Chaudhary in Balotra, Raje in Jhalawar and Pilot in Jaipur.
Rajasthan BJP president C P Joshi exercised his franchise in Chittorgarh and party MPs Diya Kumari and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore voted in Jaipur. Kumari and Rathore are among the seven BJP parliamentarians who are contesting the assembly elections.
In their interactions with the media, the leaders expressed confidence that their respective parties would get the mandate of the people.
There is no anti-incumbency against the Congress and the party will form the government in the state again, Chief Minister Gehlot said in Jodhpur. "There seems to be an undercurrent. Looks like the (Congress) government will be repeated," he said.
Talking to reporters in Jhalawar, Gehlot's predecessor Raje retorted, "I agree with him. There is indeed an undercurrent but in the favour of BJP. Lotus (BJP's poll symbol) will bloom on December 3."
In Jodhpur, Union minister Shekhawat said, "BJP is coming to power with a huge majority. This time people will vote keeping in mind crimes committed against women, paper leak incidents and corruption during the five-year rule of the Congress."
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress President Mallikarjun Kharge and several other leaders appealed to the people of Rajasthan to vote in large numbers.
An official said Shanti Lal, a polling agent of the BJP candidate from the Sumerpur constituency Joraram Kumawat, collapsed at booth number 47. He was rushed to a nearby hospital and then to the district hospital, where doctors declared him dead on arrival.
Satyendra Arora, 62, collapsed at a polling booth in Udaipur. He was taken to a nearby hospital by his family members where doctors declared him dead.