Chandigarh: As counting of votes for zila parishads and panchayat samitis elections in Punjab is underway, the Indian National Congress has bagged 29 Patiala panchayat samiti, seven in Bhatinda and 12 in Amritsar. It continues to lead in Ludhiana and Jalandhar. The Rahul Gandhi-led party is being touted as the favourite to win the local elections after a gap of 10 years.
The main contest is between the ruling party and the Sukhbir Singh Badal-led Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance.
While Congress won 43 seats in Patiala, SAD won two and AAP failed to open its account. In Bathinda, out of 10, Congress was victorious seven seat, SAD on and a seat was won by Indian National Lok Dal. The grand old party also won Amritsar with 12 seats, followed by four of SAD. Meanwhile, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has registered its first win in Fazilka.
The counting is being held three days after the polling was marred by incidents of clashes between Congress and SAD workers and allegations of poll rigging by opposition parties.
Former Deputy chief minister and some Akali workers were booked on the complaint of a Congress worker who alleged he was thrashed at Killianwali village in Muktsar district on Wednesday, police said.
Opposition Akali Dal, meanwhile, accused the Congress of resorting to "booth capturing, bogus voting and using muscle power", charges denied by the state's ruling party which claimed the polling was "free and fair". Voting began at 8 am and went on till 4 pm, officials said.
An average 58.10 per cent voting was witnessed during the polls, a spokesman of Punjab State Election Office said. The highest polling of 71.66 per cent was observed in Mansa district while the lowest was in Tarn Taran at 43.77 per cent, he said.
Among other places, voting percentage in Amritsar, Ludhiana, Muktsar, Bathinda was 52, 57, 58 and 55 per cent respectively, the official said. A total of 354 zila parishad members and 2,900 panchayat samiti members will be elected in these polls, officials said. There are 22 zila parishads and 150 panchayat samitis in the state.
In Muktsar district, a case was registered against SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal, police said. A case under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) including 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 506 (punishment for criminal intimidation) was registered, Muktsar SSP Manjit Singh Dhesi said.
Sukhbir Singh Badal has been named in the FIR, the SSP said. The complainant identified as 55-year-old Jatinderpal Singh alleged he was thrashed by a group of Akali workers led by Badal, SSP Dhesi said.
Former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, who visited polling booths in his area after casting his vote in Muktsar district, alleged a large number of Congress workers, brandishing swords, were involved in "booth capturing".
"Booth capturing is taking place and as an MLA, I will not tolerate this in my area. Police was not performing its duty. SSP does not take my phone call. What kind of elections were these, where booths were captured and nomination papers of Akalis rejected," Parkash Singh Badal asked.
Akali leader Bikram Sigh Majithia alleged 62 polling booths in Ferozepur, Muktsar, Bathinda, Moga, Sangrur, Patiala, Mohali, Faridkot etc were captured by Congress workers. "Congress men resorted to bogus voting, large scale violence and threatening the presiding officers," alleged Majithia.
Akali leaders claimed Congress workers hit Akali workers and others who dared to resist and resorted to firing in Dullewal village in Bathinda district where a girl was injured. Bathinda DSP Gurpreet Singh said there was no incident of firing in Dullewal. The girl was injured when hit by a vehicle, said the DSP.
In Bathinda, former minister and Akali leader Sikandar Singh Maluka along with party workers blocked Bhagta-Bathinda road alleging Congress workers were involved in booth capturing at Kangar, Bhai Rupa and Salabatpura.
DSP Gurpreet rejected the accusations but said there was an incident at Dyalpur Mirza polling booth where some people were involved in booth capturing and a video of which went viral on social media. He said a probe was ordered.
Majithia claimed Congress workers indulged in bogus voting. He claimed one returning officer was caught on video stamping ballot papers in favour of Congress.
In Dera Bassi, the ballot papers received by the presiding officer were already stamped in favour of Congress, Majithia alleged. Majithia said his party would approach the Punjab and Haryana High court over the alleged poll rigging.
Clashes between Congress and Akali workers were reported from areas in Ferozepur, Muktsar, Bathinda, and Amritsar. Rejecting the accusations of the Akali Dal, Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar claimed polling was "peaceful, free and fair".
"They (Akalis) are trying to find an excuse to explain their defeat which they anticipate like they witnessed in the Gurdaspur Lok Sabha bypoll, Shahkot Assembly bypoll and municipal corporation elections. Akalis were routed and this is what is going to happen in zila parishad and panchayat samiti polls," Jakhar claimed. The Aam Aadmi Party also accused Congress of "murdering democracy" by indulging in booth capturing.
In Ferozepur, unidentified persons fired in the air at Basti Ajij Wali area and broke the window panes of an SAD worker's car, police said. A 44-year old man died when returning home after casting vote at a polling booth in Fatehgarh Sahib district, officials said.
A total of 17,268 polling booths were set up, 35 observers appointed and around 50,000 police personnel deployed for the polls. Thirty three candidates were elected unopposed to various zila parishads and 369 nominees to panchayat samitis. There are a total of 1,27,87,395 registered voters, comprising 60,99,053 women and 97 third-gender voters who were eligible to cast votes.