Thousands of people on Tuesday battled corona fears and queued up outside polling booths across 10 states to vote in by-elections to 54 assembly constituencies, including 28 in Madhya Pradesh where the BJP is locked in a high-stakes contest with the Congress to save its government.
COVID-19 guidelines were in place as the first pan-India electoral exercise in the pandemic began with election staff in personal protective equipment (PPE) suits, more polling booths to prevent overcrowding, thermal screening, sanitisers and masks and gloves for voters as well as markings to ensure social distancing, officials said.
Voting started at 7 am and will continue till 6 pm, except in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Nagaland. The last hour has been reserved for voters who have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said.
The votes will be counted on November 10.
UTTAR PRADESH AND HARYANA
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and his Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar echoed them in their appeal to voters.
As voting gathered pace, over 18 per cent of votes were cast till 11 am in the bypolls to seven Assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh. Haryana witnessed low voter turnout in the initial hours.
The bypolls in Uttar Pradesh are the first electoral test for the Azad Samaj Party, which evolved from Chandrashekhar Azad's Bhim Army that has fielded Mohammed Yameed from Bulandshahr.
The seven assembly seats include Naugaon Sadat, which fell vacant after the death of cabinet minister Chetan Chauhan who had tested positive for COVID-19. The BJP has fielded his wife Sangeeta Chauhan.
As the morning progressed, she alleged that fake votes were being cast and demanded that voting be done only after 'burqas' (veils) were removed
The other significant seat is Bangarmau (Unnao), which fell vacant after Kuldeep Singh Sengar was convicted in a rape case.
In Haryana, 1.8 lakh voters are eligible to decide the fate of 14 candidates, including wrestler and BJP candidate Yogeshwar Dutt, in Baroda. The seat fell vacant in April after the demise of Congress's three-time legislator MLA Shri Krishan Hooda.
The death of former chief minister and JCC(J) legislator Ajit Jogi necessitated the by-election in the Marwahi assembly seat. Till 11 am, 21.52 per cent polling was recorded in the Scheduled Tribes (ST)-reserved seat where eight candidates are in the fray.
Over 20 candidates are in the fray in the state's Dubbak assembly constituency but the main contest is among the TRS, BJP and the Congress. The by-election is necessitated by the death of sitting TRS MLA Solipeta Ramalinga Reddy due to health problems in August this year. The TRS has fielded his widow Solipeta Sujatha.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren's home turf Dumka is seeing a contest between his younger brother Basant Soren and former cabinet minister Lois Marandi of the BJP.It is expected to be a straight fight between BJP's Yogeshwar Mahato and Anup Singh of the Congress in Bermo seat in Bokaro district.
In Odisha, the BJD and the BJP are fighting for the Tirtol and Balasore seats won by the two parties, respectively, in the 2019 assembly elections.
In the northeast state, eight candidates are in contesting the by-election to two Assembly seats -- three from the Southern Angami-1 seat and five from Pungro-Kiphire constituency.
The Southern Angami-I seat fell vacant following the death of Assembly speaker Vikho-o Yhoshu last December. The Pungro-Kiphire seat was declared vacant following the death of sitting opposition Naga Peoples Front MLA, T. Torechu.
Voting started at 6 am in these seats and will end at 4 pm
Bypolls in the state are being held in eight seats after Congress MLAs resigned ahead of the Rajya Sabha polls in June. Five of them later joined the BJP and are contesting again. Officials said the voter turnout till 11 am was 23.29 per cent.
Assembly bypolls are also underway in Chhattisgarh (one), Nagaland (two), Jharkhand (two), Karnataka (two), Nagaland (two), Odisha (two) and Telangana (one).
All eyes are on Madhya Pradesh where the BJP, which has 107 MLAs in the assembly with an effective strength of 229, needs at least eight more MLAs for a simple majority.
The stakes are high for the Congress, too, as it had sitting MLAs in 27 of the 28 seats going to the polls. Twenty-five resigned early this year and joined the BJP after a rebellion by Jyotiraditya Scindia, leading to the collapse of the Kamal Nath government. They are now contesting as BJP candidates. In the three other seats, the by-election was necessitated following the deaths of the sitting legislators.
Twelve state ministers are among the 355 candidates contesting in the central India state, where bypolls are being held for so many seats in one go for the first time.
In most seats, there is a direct fight between the BJP and Congress.
In Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka, the saffron party is fielding 31 candidates who had won on a Congress ticket but switched sides and resigned, necessitating the bypolls.
In Karnataka, voting is underway in Rajarajeshwari (RR) Nagar in Bengaluru Urban district and Sira in Tumakuru district, where a total of 31 candidates are fighting.
The death of Sira MLA B Satyanarayana, who was from the JD(S), and the resignation of RR Nagar Congress MLA Munirathna from the assembly, last year, led to the by-elections.
The RR Nagar seat, part of the Bengaluru Rural Lok Sabha constituency represented by Congress state chief D K Shivakumar's brother D K Suresh, is a prestigious issue for both the Congress and the BJP. The BJP has fielded former Congress MLA Munirathna while the Congress has put forward H Kusuma, wife of the late IAS officer D K Ravi. The JD(S) has fielded V Krishnamurthy. The BJP had earlier held this constituency, which Munirathna had won as a Congress MLA.