Over 53 lakh voters will decide fate of 45 Himachal candidates in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections for which polling began on Sunday in the last phase of the mega exercise.

The elections are a prestige battle for Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur who took over reigns in December 2017 as it is being considered referendum on his 17-month government.

Thakur is under pressure to retain all four Lok Sabha seats with higher margins while for Congress, it is a battle to avert clean sweep of 2014 elections with new party chief Kuldeep Singh Rathore at the helm to prove his anointment, just few months before polls, right.

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The Bharatiya Janata Party is contesting elections on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’ name and is raking up the issues of development and national security.

The Congress, on the other hand, is raking with issues of failures of Modi government in fulfilling poll promises made in 2014 Lok Sabha polls.

From Kangra (the largest constituency in terms of voters), BJP has fielded sitting MLA and Cabinet minister Kishan Kapoor while Congress has fielded sitting MLA Pawan Kajal.

In Mandi which is largest constituency (area-wise), the contest is between sitting MP Ram Swaroop Sharma of BJP and Ashray Sharma of Congress.

Ashray is the grandson of former Union minister Sukh Ram and his father, Anil Sharma, a sitting BJP MLA from, was a Cabinet minister in BJP government but he had to resign as he had refused to campaign against his son.

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In Hamirpur, Congress has fielded sitting MLA from Sri Naina Devi Ram Lal Thakur to take on three-time MP Anurag Thakur. While in Shimla, two army veterans, Suresh Kashyap of BJP and Col (retd) Dhaniram Shandil are in fray.

The Election Commission has setup 7730 polling stations in four parliamentary constituencies (Shimla, Mandi, Hamirpur and Kangra) in Himachal Pradesh, of which 373 polling stations are critical.

Around 25,000 police personnel including Central Paramilitary forces, HP Police and Home Guards have been deployed to ensure free and fair elections in the state.

The inclement weather conditions in the state are proving to be a challenge for Election department officials as the higher reaches are receiving intermittent rains and snowfall accompanied by thunderstorms.

The weather is likely to remain cloudy on polling day with state Meteorological department predicting isolated rains accompanied by thunderstorms in low and high hill regions. The middle hills regions are likely to receive rains accompanied by thunderstorms at few places.

“All arrangement are in place for free and fair polls across the state,” an Election department official said.

The polling parties for cold desert of Himachal Pradesh, Lahaul Spiti including the world’s highest polling booth, Tashigang (15,526 feet) has reached at the polling stations.

However, polling party for toughest and remote region, Bara Bhangal is likely to reach by Saturday evening. The polling party was sent on 15 May to the area as helicopter couldn’t land there owing to harsh weather conditions.

In the single phase elections, the main battle is between ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress.

Of the total 53.30 lakh voters, around 27 lakh voters are male while 26 lakh voters are female with 1.52 lakh voters exercising their franchise for the first time.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the poll percentage stood at 64.45 per cent which was much higher as compared to 58.43 per cent in the 2009 general elections.

The polling percentage in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls was recorded at 59.71.

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