Polling for 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab began today amid tight security where stakes are high in a multi-cornered contest among SAD-BJP combine, Congress and new entrant Aam Aadmi Party.
Prominent candidates amonga total of 253, including 19 women in the state, are Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley and his Congress rival Amarinder Singh from Amritsar seat and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's daughter-in-law and SAD MP Harsimrat Kaur and nephew Manpreet Singh Badal of Congress from Bathinda.
Both Amarinder and Jaitley are not registered voters in Amritsar.
Others key contestants include actor-turned-politician Vinod Khanna (BJP) and his rival Punjab Congress Chief Partap Singh Bajwa from Gurdaspur, Leader of Opposition in Punjab assembly Sunil Kumar Jakhar (Congress) against SAD's sitting MP Sher Singh Ghubaya from Ferozepur, Congress veteran Ambika Soni against Akali stalwart Prem Singh Chandumajra.
While Congress' Preneet Kaur is eyeing a fourth consecutive win from her traditional seat Patiala, SAD's sitting MP Paramjeet Kaur Gulshan is hoping for a hat-trick from her traditional Faridkot seat.
Besides, AAPs Bhagwant Mann, a comedian-turned- politician is locked in a close fight against Congress sitting MP Vijay Inder Singla, also known to be Rahul Gandhi's protege and Akali veteran Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa from Sangrur.
Late Chief Minister Beant Singh's grandson and Congress young MP Ravneet Singh Bittu is fighting it out against SAD's firebrand MLA Manpreet Singh Aiyali and another sitting independent MLA Simerjeet Singh Bains from Ludhiana seat.
A total of 1.95 crore voters will seal the fate of 253 contestants during the day when the polling will end at 6 PM.
Of the total voters, 9.35 lakh are first-timers, 92 lakh females and 1.02 crore males. A total of 24,300 EVMs are being used, officials said.
Meanwhile, Punjab's Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) V K Singh said that comprehensive arrangements have been made to ensure free,fair and transparent Lok Sabha Elections in the state.
"We have chalked out a special security plan to ensure smooth conduct of general elections to Lok Sabha in the state," DGP, Suresh Arora, said.
He said that with mobilization of 59,591 police personnel of state along with 16,119 personnel (199 companies) of paramilitary forces, the state police is fully geared to provide foolproof security for the free, fair and smooth conduct of the polling in all the parliamentary constituencies.
He said that IG/DIG level officers are in field to ensure that the special security plan for the entire state is implemented in letter and spirit.
The DGP informed that 150 special 'nakas' have already been set up at all inter-state entries on Punjab borders touching Haryana, Himachal Pardesh, Chandigarh, J&K and Rajasthan to effectively block the entry of any unscrupulous element during the polling in state.
"Besides this, 15,286 number of special Nakas have been put up throughout the state by utilizing the services of police personnel accompanying polling parties and 1,704 route zone/patrolling parties to check any movement of liquor or money to influence voters," he said.
He said that to check the flow or distribution of liquor Excise Officials have been provided with sufficient security.
The DGP informed that the state has 13,582 polling stations and 22,060 polling booths. He also said that 2442 polling stations have been declared hyper sensitive and 4632 were sensitive and these were being covered either by paramilitary forces/patrolling by district police or micro observers or video cameras or web casting.
The DGP informed that the entire state has been divided into 1704 Sectors (beats) and each sector has been put under a sector in charge deployed by the District Election Officer and was being assisted by a patrolling party comprising of one head constable and three constables.
"A two-tier communication plan has been adopted under which besides providing additional wireless sets the mobile numbers of all sector in charges have been taken to pass or receive any message without any delay.
A new SMS based information system has been prepared and installed by National Informatics Centre (NIC) through which the State Command Centre and the districts will get direct messages from these parties," he informed.
At present Congress had eight MPs, SAD four and its ally BJP has one.