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Voting in Punjab amid tight security on Friday

PTI | Chandigarh |

Polling will be held on Friday to elect the 117-member Punjab Assembly in a three-cornered contest with Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine, which is battling anti-incumbency after a 10-year rule, locked in a tough contest with Congress and new entrant Aam Aadmi Party.

1.98 crore people will be eligible to vote in the high- stake election, the first after Modi Government's demonetisation move, in which 1,145 candidates, including 81 women and transgenders, are in the fray.

Over 200 companies (each comprising 80-100 personnel) of paramilitary forces have been deputed for the election in the state which saw a car blast barely two days before the campaign was to end in which six people were killed. Punjab police did not rule out the incident as an act of terror.

"Election machinery is fully geared to conduct fair and peaceful polling," an election office spokesman said here today.

Voting will also be held for bypoll to Amritsar Lok Sabha seat tomorrow.

Out of the total electorate of 1,98,79,069 in the state, there are 93,75,546 women and 415 transgenders.

22,615 polling stations have been set up across the state. While 83 Assembly seats are of general category, 34 have been demarcated as reserved.

Punjab is witnessing a three-cornered contest between ruling SAD-BJP alliance, Congress and AAP, which has claimed that it will repeat its Delhi success where it swept the election in 2015.

The AAP, which had won four Lok Sabha seats in 2014, has plunged into the contest in a big way with its chief Arvind Kejriwal criss-crossing large parts of the state.

The Badal family came under fierce attack from AAP over alleged corruption, drug menace and law and order while the SAD-BJP and Congress accused AAP of flirting with extremists and targeted Kejriwal for being an "outsider".

Kejriwal, in turn, accused Congress Chief Amarinder Singh and the Badals of being hand in glove.

Apart from the drug menace, the contentious SYL canal issue and sacrilege of holy books of Sikhs were among the major issues flagged by the electoral rivals.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi held two elections rallies in Jalandhar and Kotkapura in the state where he flagged the issue of threat from Pakistan to seek votes for SAD-BJP combine, which he claimed alone could provide a stable government that would guarantee safety and security of the state.

Rahul Gandhi took Congress' campaign to the pocket boroughs of the ruling Badal clan, including Lambi, Majitha and Jalalabad, to target it over alleged corruption, playing dynastic politics and promoting drugs and mining mafia.

After initial dithering, Rahul Gandhi declared Patiala royal family scion Amarinder Singh the party's chief ministerial face. Amarinder, 74, has already announced it would be his last election.

Congress is contesting alone on all seats.

Aam Aadmi Party has fielded its candidates in 112 seats, while its ally Lok Insaf Party, led by Ludhiana based Bains brothers, have fielded nominees in five seats.

The Assembly polls in Punjab are also seen as a test of Modi's popularity especially in the wake of demonetisation.

BJP is, however, contesting only 23 seats in the state while its ally SAD has fielded candidates in 94 seats.

Other political outfits in the fray include BSP, former AAP leader Sucha Singh Chhotepur-led Apna Punjab Party, the Left comprising CPI and CPI (M), and SAD-Amritsar.

Key contestants whose fate will be decided include Punjab Congress Chief Amarinder Singh (Patiala and Lambi seats), Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal (Lambi) and his son Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal (Jalalabad), AAP MP Bhagwant Mann (Jalalabad), Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia (Majitha) and cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu as Congress nominee (Amritsar East).