At sharp 7 a.m. on Monday, polling got underway across Kerala to elect 140 new legislators to the 14th Kerala Legislative Assembly.
The electoral battle in the state is principally between the traditional rival fronts — the Congress-led UDF and the CPI-M-led LDF.
But the BJP-led NDA alliance after a massive election campaign led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also having high hopes.
The cloudy skies and rains in some places appears not to have dented the interests of the voters as in most places people had come well before time and in many places the queue of voters started to grow.
A total of 1,203 contestants, including 109 women, are in the fray.
As per the latest figures, the state has 2,60,19,284 voters comprising of 1,25,10,589 male, 1,35,08,693 female and two voters belonging to the third gender.
There are 21,498 regular polling booths and 148 auxiliary polling booths. Among them, 1,233 are categorised as critical, including 119 booths that are in Maoist-influenced areas.
A record 1,11,897 polling officials and more than 52,000 personnel from the Kerala Police besides around 100 companies of central forces, 2,000 officials from the excise department and another 2,027 home guards will ensure that the poll passes off peacefully.
Kannur district that is considered a Communist Party of India-Marxist stronghold and has seen numerous incidents of poll-related violence in the past has 1,042 critical booths and hence has maximum deployment of central forces.
Following a huge public campaign by the Election Commission to attract more voters to the polling booths, it is expected that there would be record voting in Kerala polls today and the turnout expected to touch 80 percent.
Speaking to the media here on Sunday, chief electoral officer E.K. Majhi said in the past elections in Kerala, the average turnout was hovering in the range of 75 percent.
“This time we had lot of time with us to spread the message of the need to cast votes to the general public. Every district we ran campaigns for this and we feel this time it would be an all time high voter turnout and is expected to touch 80 percent,” he said.
“Webcasting is being done in all the critical booths besides there would be static cameras in operation where there is a connectivity problem. We arrived in the number of critical booths based on previous election related incidents,” said Majhi.
Meantime, the two rival fronts – the ruling Congress-led UDF and the Left opposition-LDF are fully equipped to face the battle. Whether BJP can open its account in the state is the major question as far as this election is concerned.
Incidentally, former defence minister A.K. Antony, Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury, all said that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will not open its account in the state.
“History will be created on May 19, when for the first time a ruling government will retain power. The BJP in Kerala will be able to watch the assembly proceedings from the visitor’s gallery of the Kerala assembly only. The final surge for the UDF has come following the irresponsible statement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. We all thought he would correct himself, which he did not,” said Antony to reporters.
Yechury while emphasising that the BJP will not open its account, however said that should that happen, then it will be clear that this is because of “match-fixing between the Congress and the BJP”.
“We are going to have a landslide victory and will restore Kerala to a proper path of growth and one with a holistic development process; besides we will put up a corruption free governance,” said Yechury to reporters here.
BJP chief Amit Shah, who has been camping in the state for the past many days and directing the campaign, challenged the rival fronts to come clear on what their policy would be if there is a hung Kerala assembly.
“We make our stand clear now itself, that we will not have any tie-up with either of the fronts,” said Shah.
Chandy told reporters in Kottayam that Kerala will not give any space to the “divisive policy” of the BJP. “The people of Kerala will give a fitting reply to Modi for his Somalia remarks. We are going to retain power with an increased tally of seats,” Chandy asserted. (with IANS inputs)