Counting of votes began on Tuesday morning for the Chhattisgarh assembly polls, being viewed as a prestige battle for three-term Chief Minister Raman Singh of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the opposition Congress party. This time, the coalition between Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), former chief minister Ajit Jogi's Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J) and the Communist Party of India (CPI) has added another dimension to the electoral politics of the state, which has been dominated by the BJP and the Congress.
Several exit polls have predicted a neck-and-neck fight between the BJP and the Congress while some have projected a victory for the Rahul Gandhi-led party.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party is seeking a fourth straight term in office, the Congress is aiming to stage a comeback after being out of power for the last 15 years.
Tight security arrangements have been made at the counting centres in all 27 districts, particularly the Maoist-affected ones, where voting was held in two phases on November 12 and 20 to elect a new 90-member assembly.
The state had recorded a 76.6 per cent voter turnout.
"Counting for all 90 seats started at 8 am at the 27 district headquarters. A three-layer security is in place at all counting centres," an election official said.
Counting of postal ballots began at 8 am and the process to count votes from the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) would begin at 8:30 am, he said.
As many as 5,184 counting personnel and 1,500 micro-observers have been appointed for smooth conduct of the process.
In every counting hall, 14 tables have been arranged in rows of seven tables each, apart from separate tables for the returning officer and for counting of postal ballots, the official said.
The fate of the 1,269 contestants, including the chief minister, his 11 ministers and state presidents of the BJP and the Congress will be decided on Tuesday.
Raman Singh is locked in a fight in the Rajnandgaon seat with the Congress party's Karuna Shukla, the niece of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
On the eve of counting of votes, the BJP and the Congress claimed victory, while Mr Jogi's party also expressed confidence of forming the next government.
State BJP chief Dharamlal Kaushik said the party will register a victory for the fourth consecutive term and the Congress should accept its defeat.
"The Congress should not focus on victory now instead it should be prepared to tackle the infighting that will erupt within its leaders after facing the drubbing," he said.
The BJP has been in office for the last 15 years due to its "positive and performance-oriented" politics, he said.
Congress state communication wing chief Shailesh Nitin Trivedi said the people of the state, particularly farmers, have suffered a lot during the 15-year rule of the BJP government, and have voted for a change this time.
JCC (J) Spokesperson Iqbal Ahmed Rizvi claimed the people have lost faith in both the BJP and the Congress. "Ajit Jogi will become chief minister after the alliance of three parties will come to power on Tuesday", he said.
Of the 90 assembly segments, 51 are for general category, 10 are reserved for scheduled castes (SC) and 29 for scheduled tribes (ST).
In the 2013 elections, the BJP won 49 seats, the Congress 39, while one seat each was bagged by the BSP and an independent.
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