Amid clashes and arrest of a ruling AAP legislator, nearly 50 per cent of the 16.21 lakh electorate on Wednesday cast votes to decide the fate of 19 candidates in the fray for Jalandhar (reserved) parliamentary constituency, which witnessed a four-cornered fierce contest in the Dalit-dominated Doaba region, traditionally a Congress bastion.
The counting of ballots will take place on Saturday.
Voting began on a dull note, with below five per cent polling in the first hour but by 11 a.m., rose to 17 per cent. It picked up gradually as the day progressed.
Women turned out in strength in the rural areas of the constituency that spread across nine assembly constituencies.
There were minor hiccups as electronic voting machines developed snags at some places.
Ruling AAP legislator Dalbir Singh Tong was arrested for violating model code during the polling, but later released on bail.
Chief Electoral Officer Sibin C. told the media that Tong, the legislator of Baba Bakala, was arrested.
He said on receiving photographs of outsiders present near polling booths, the police have been instructed to conduct checks and make public announcements to ask non-voters to leave the constituency immediately.
He said the bypoll was overall peaceful. Till 5 p.m., one hour ahead of the voting to culminate, 50.05 per cent voting percentage was recorded.
Opposition parties alleged a gross misuse of government machinery by the government during the polling.
Hours ahead of the polling, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) urged the Election Commission to deploy paramilitary forces and demanded videography of every booth falling under the constituency.
The bypoll was necessitated with the death of Congress MP Santokh Chaudhary due to a heart attack while taking part in the Punjab leg of the Bharat Jodo Yatra in January.
The Congress, which has remained undefeated in this seat since 1999, has fielded Chaudhary's widow Karamjit Kaur as its candidate, while the AAP has given the ticket to Congress turncoat and former legislator Sushil Rinku.
While the Shiromani Akali Dal-Bahujan Samaj Party (SAD-BSP) combine has fielded Sukhwinder Kumar Sukhi, a sitting legislator, the BJP has given the ticket to Akali turncoat and former legislator Inder Iqbal Singh Atwal.
The Jalandhar bypoll is being dubbed to be a crucial electoral battle for all political parties ahead of the 2024 general elections.
The 13-month AAP government is set for a litmus test, where a victory or defeat will stamp its administrative and leadership acumen.
In June 2022, the AAP had witnessed a major setback when SAD (Amritsar)'s Simranjit Singh Mann won the Sangrur Lok Sabha seat after defeating his nearest rival, the party's Gurmail Singh, by a slender margin.
The Sangrur constituency was once a stronghold of AAP. Bhagwant Mann had represented this seat twice -- 2014 and 2019. He had vacated the seat after winning the Assembly elections in February 2022 from Dhuri and became the Chief Minister.
For the Jalandhar bypoll, the Chaudhary family was banking on votes of Dalits owing to their proximity with Dera Sachkhand Ballan, a prominent Ravidassia community that has much influence in the Doaba region comprising Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala districts.
Likewise, AAP's candidate Rinku belongs to the Ravidassia sect. The Jalandhar seat has 38 per cent Dalit population, comprising 21 per cent Ravidasias and the remaining Valmiki or Mazhbi Sikhs.
Playing an emotional card during campaigning, SAD President Sukhbir Badal had said strengthening the SAD-BSP alliance by electing its joint candidate Sukhi in the bypoll would be the most appropriate homage to late five-time Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.
Saying that this poll will set the tone for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, BJP leader Amarinder Singh has said the vote for the party candidate would strengthen the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
He has lashed out at the AAP government, saying it has completely failed the people's expectations despite getting a landslide victory.
In appeal to the voters to give one more year so that they could trust AAP in 2024, Chief Minister Mann has tried to woo votes by saying: "You (people) kept on giving chances to the Akali Dal and the Congress for 70 years, but they did nothing for you. Just give us one more year to work. If you don't like our work, don't vote for us in 2024."
AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal and Mann on Sunday jointly campaigned by holding four roadshows in various constituencies in a single day.
There were 16,21,759 voters, including 8,44,904 men, 7,76,855 women, 10,286 persons with disability, 1,850 service electors, 73 overseas electors and 41 transgenders in the constituency.
A total of 1,972 polling booths were set up.
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