Widespread snow and extremely cold climatic conditions in the upper reaches of Himachal Pradesh on Thursday did not affect the arrangements for the Assembly’s polls on Saturday, election officials say. Even voters are outraged at their participation in the record despite extreme climatic conditions, reports said.
Officials told IANS that at a majority of 92 polling stations for a population of 31,538 in Lahaul-Spiti district — of the state’s 7,881 booths — there was widespread snowfall overnight.
The district’s polling booths, a cold desert dotted with tiny helmets scattered across the Himalayan peaks bordering Tibet, are scattered across rugged and inhospitable terrain where polling stations have to trek for hours to get there.
“The voting material has already reached all polling stations in the state, including the most remote stations,” Neeraj Kumar, a special-duty officer in the state election department, told IANS in Shimla. He said polling staff would be at the distant polling booths Friday, a day before the election.
“Our election staff is highly motivated. So are the voters. This time we will see a record poll of more than 80 percent,” he added. The 2017 Assembly polls hit a record 75.57 percent, the highest in four decades.
At that time, too, Congress and the BJP were in a straight line.
A historic snowfall battle
The voters of the outlying districts of Kinnaur, Chamba and Lahaul-Spiti, which make up the sprawling Mandi parliamentary constituency covering nearly two-thirds of the state, have a special place in the history of democracy in independent India as they were the first were exercising their suffrage months ahead of the rest of the nation for the first general election between December 1951 and February 1952.
This was done to ensure that the snowfall did not deprive the tribes of the privilege of exercising their franchise. “Until the early 1990s, there were no good roads. The ballot boxes were transported on horseback,” said 80-year-old Tashi Tenzing from Tholang village in the Lahaul Valley.
Gian Bodh, a school teacher, from Nako village in Kinnaur, told IANS: “I remember my grandfather trudging to get to the nearby polling station, about 20 km from our home. Now it is in the village itself.”
According to state election department records, Shyam Saran Negi, 106, was the first independent India voter to cast his vote at the polling booth in Kalpa village in Kinnaur on October 25, 1951. Just three days after casting his 34th vote in the upcoming polls, he died on November 5 in his hometown.
A polling station close to the India-China border
Kinnaur district also has the polling station with the fewest number of voters in the state. “The Kaa polling station near Yangthang has only six voters — the lowest in the state,” chief polling station Maneesh Garg said.
Octogenarian Durga Negi, a retired teacher from Tashigang, located 15,256 feet in the Spiti Valley, said, “We used to have to walk for miles to cast votes. Now the better road network has made the polling station accessible.” The polling station in Tashigang is located close to the India-China border and includes 52 voters from the villages of Tashigang and Gete.
Himachal Pradesh’s highest polling station is in Chask Bhatori village in Bharmour, located at an altitude of 4,500 meters, where the polling station has to travel an arduous 14 km journey to get there.
Garg said 26 people are eligible to vote in the Chask Bhatori, located at an altitude of 4,500 meters in Sechu panchayat of the Pangi tribal area.
The Election Department has set up 7,881 polling stations for the November 12 elections for the 68-member Assembly.
Wedding Muhurat Clash with Gujarat Polls
The election dates of the Gujarat assembly next month will coincide with the wedding season, when a large number of people are likely to remain busy planning and participating in such events, wedding planners have said. However, some political leaders said they will try to persuade people to take some time off from their social obligations to cast their votes.
According to wedding experts, dates such as December 2, 4 and 8 are among the most auspicious for marriages and hundreds of wedding functions are planned during that time. The Gujarat Assembly polls will be held in two phases on December 1 and 5 and the vote counting will take place on December 8.
The wedding season will get busy from Nov. 22 and last until the beginning of the Dec. 16 “kamurta” period, when no auspicious events are scheduled, according to some wedding planners, PTI reported.
They said hundreds of weddings are planned between November 22 and December 16, with a large number of events scheduled for the auspicious dates of December 2, 4 and 8.
People excited to vote after Covid lift
Since COVID-19-related restrictions such as a curfew and a cap on the number of guests were lifted, the number of wedding events scheduled for this winter season has soared, they said.
“There is a wedding rush and a lot of such features are planned this season,” Anand Thakrar of The Shadi Planner, a Vadodara-based company, told PTI.
“Since the COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, the number of guests at wedding parties has also increased sharply to 500-1,000 people. This is also an important difference from last year,” he said.
Ahmedabad priest Kamlesh Trivedi said the auspicious wedding dates are between November 25 and December 14, before the nearly month-long ‘kamurta’ period begins on December 16.
“A large number of weddings are planned on the ‘muhurat’ dates – November 28, 29 and December 2, 4 and 8, which are around the election schedule,” Trivedi said.
Will convince people to attend weddings, politicians say
Gujarat Congress spokesman Manish Doshi noted that people have planned weddings and cannot postpone them for elections. “But we will try to convince them to take a moment to vote. Marriage is undoubtedly important, but they can make some time to participate in this celebration of democracy,” he said.
Doshi claimed that the people of Gujarat have made up their mind for a change and will find a way out of their social obligations, including weddings, to run their franchise.
Gujarat Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) spokesman Karan Barot said: “It is the people’s responsibility to ensure the victory of a good candidate regardless of which political party he/she belongs to.”
Therefore, they are being asked to vote for their favorite local leader, even if it means taking some time off from their social obligations, he said.
“As a political party, we would like to ask them that, even if they have to attend weddings or other functions, they should ensure that the good candidates win regardless of the political parties they represent,” Barot added.
Out of a total of 182 seats of the Assembly in Gujarat, 89 seats will be voted on December 1 and 93 seats on December 5.
With input from IANS, PTIA
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