Amid tight security, polling began today for the high-profile Tehri Lok Sabha seat in Uttarakhand where Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna's son and Congress nominee Saket Bahuguna is taking on BJP's Mala Raj Laxmi Shah, a member of the erstwhile Tehri royal family.
Enthusiastic voters, including women, turned up in substantial numbers at the polling booths spread over the three districts of Dehradun, Tehri and Uttarkashi to exercise their franchise in the bypoll necessitated after the Chief Minister resigned from the seat following his victory from Sitarganj Assembly constituency.
A total of 1185606 voters including 563845 women will decide the fate of 14 candidates in the fray for the bypoll in which Congress and BJP are locked in a straight contest. 2011 polling booths have been set up out of which 334 have been identified as hyper sensitive and 311 as sensitive.
Elaborate security arrangements have been made to ensure peaceful, free and fair polling, official sources said.
Tying for electoral glory in a field of 14 are BJP's Mala Raj Laxmi Shah, the daughter-in-law of erstwhile Tehri royal family scion Manvendra Shah, who represented the seat in Lok Sabha for a record eight times, and Congress' Saket Bahuguna, son of Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna and grandson of former UP chief minister Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna.
Saket's aunt Rita Bahuguna Joshi was the chief of the Uttar Pradesh unit of the Congress until recently.
As intense campaigning was being carried out by the main contestants in the fray for the bypoll, both Congress and BJP are making claims of having an edge over each other, citing impressive turnout at their election meetings.
While the BJP is banking heavily on the traditional clout of the erstwhile Tehri royal family in the constituency, the Congress is trying to woo voters by projecting itself as the party in power both in the state and at the Centre which can help bring big time investment and development to the area.
Congress also feels it has an advantage in the run-up to the bypoll as the constituency belongs to the party.The seat fell vacant after Chief Minister Vijay Bahuguna resigned from it following his victory from Sitarganj Assembly constituency.
Another factor which the Congress thinks may work in its favour is the young age of Saket and his international exposure as he gave up a promising career with a multinational giant to join politics.
"Our candidate is young and dynamic and has international exposure. He is drawing big crowds to his meetings. All this indicates we are going to win with a huge margin," state Congress vice president Suryakant Dhasmana said.
However, BJP feels Saket is a political greenhorn pitted against a formidable opponent in Mala Raj Laxmi Shah who looked after the poll campaigns of her father-in-law Manvendra Shah, an eight time winner from the seat.
"Saket is a first timer yet to prove himself, whereas our candidate managed the poll campaigns of her father-in-law and has an emotional connect with the voters," Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly Ajay Bhatt told media persons.
"Look at the overwhelming response from people at her poll meetings and her door-to-door campaigns. They are touched by a member of the erstwhile royal family walking in the streets and going in the midst of them to seek votes," he said.
Claiming that people are fed up with the ruling Congress both in the state and at the Centre, Bhatt said BJP is confident of a victory in the bypoll in view of the steep hike in prices of diesel and petrol and a series of alleged scandals plaguing the UPA government.
Alleging that the last six months of Congress government in the state have been "disappointing", he said Congress' own MLAs have expressed their dissatisfaction with the government with one of them even going to the extent of staging a dharna at Jantar-Mantar in protest against his own government.
"Be it law and order, disaster management or the prolonged agitation over the issue of quota in promotion which badly affected work in government offices for nearly a month, the Bahuguna government has failed on all fronts," the Leader of Opposition said.
Recent cloudbursts and flash floods in Uttarkashi and Rudraprayag districts would not have caused death and destruction at such a massive scale if proper precautionary measures had been taken by the state government, Bhatt said.
"Cloudbursts, landslips and flashfloods are usual during monsoon in Uttarakhand. But no precautionary steps were taken by the state government to minimise the damages in case of a natural calamity which is an annual feature," the BJP leader said.
Cloudbursts and flash floods in the twin districts claimed 80 lives and rendered many homeless in less than two months since August this year.
He said the law and order scenario was never as gloomy with frequent incidents of gangrapes, loots and thefts reported from different parts of the state.
He said nearly six months of the current fiscal have passed but only 20 per cent of the budget's state plan have been spent so far. "This shows the slow pace of development work in the state," he said.
"Add to this people's anger with the UPA which is mired in a series of scams. All this doesn't bode well for the Congress in Tehri," he said.