Traditional rivals - the Congress and the BJP - will be locking horns in 68 constituencies as Himachal Pradesh goes to poll today. This time, 337 candidates including 62 MLAs are in the poll fray.
Among the heavy weights are Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal, eight Chief Parliamentary secretaries, Deputy Speaker Jagat Singh Negi, 10 ministers and over a dozen former ministers.
Here's all you need to know before the polling begins:
1. Apart from the arch rivals - the BJP and the Congress, which are competing on all 68 seats, the BSP is contesting on 42 seats, followed by the CPI(M) which has fielded 14 candidates. Swabhiman Party and Lok Gathbandhan Party have fielded six candidates each and there are three candidates from the CPI.
2. The 12 days of campaign were electrifying and saw over 450 rallies by the campaigners. While Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi addressed three rallies, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed seven rallies and BJP chief Amit Shah too pitched in for six rallies to sway the voters of the hill state to their side.
3. While The BJP went all guns blazing at the Congress, hitting the Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh for corruption, the Congress took them on over the issues of GST and demonetisation.
4. Interestingly, Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh has changed his constituency to Arki, to make way for his son Vikramadita Singh and former chief minister PK Dhumal too has changed his battleground to Sujanpur this year.
5. There are 19 women in the poll fray, six from the BJP and three from the Congress and the rest are contesting from various other parties or as independents.
6. Chief Parliamentary Secretary Mansa Ram would be contesting for the 11th straight time from Karsog (SC).
7. Dharamsala will see 12 candidates pitting against each other, the maximum number of contestants in a constituency. On the other hand, Jhanduta will see a straight contest.
8. Congress had fielded two independents from Paonta Sahib and Kangra and the BJP has fielded four Congressmen including former minister Anil Sharma and given ticket to on Independent from Chopal.
9. A total of 50,25,941 voters are eligible to cast their vote.
10. Over 180 independents and a dozen rebels of the Congress including former ministers Singhi Ram (Rampur) and Vijay Singh Mankotia (Shahpur) are in the fray.
All About The Polling Situation:
Polling in the state would be held from 8 am to 5 pm and web-casting would be used in 2,307 polling stations in the state for live monitoring of polling activities in the state by the Election Commission of India, Chief Electoral Officer Pushpender Rajput said.
As many as 7,525 polling booths have been set up in the state and 37,605 polling personnel have been deputed for poll duty. Besides 17,850 personnel of police and Home Guards and 65 companies of central paramilitary force have been deployed, Mr Rajput said.
Elaborate arrangements have been made for ensuring free and fair polls and 29 general, three police, 22 Expenditure Observers and 71 Assistant Expenditure Observers, 1,561 Micro Observers, besides, 193 Sector Magistrate and 789 Sectors officers have also been deployed throughout the state.
He said the state has 100 per cent Photo Identity Card (EPIC) holders and 7,525 Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) and Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) are being used.
VVPAT machines are being used for the first time in this Vidhan Sabha Election and 10 per cent of total EVMs and VVPATs have been kept in reserve.
The Election Commission has also allowed the electors to cast their vote by producing any one document out of the 12 identity documents.
983 polling stations had been declared vulnerable and 399 as critical to ensure free and fair elections in the State. The maximum numbers of vulnerable polling stations are 297 in Kangra district and minimum two in Kinnaur district, Mr Rajput added.
The Hikkim polling station in Lahaul and Spiti Assembly Constituency, which is situated at a maximum height of 14567 feet, has 194 voters while Ka polling booth in Kinnaur has minimum of six voters, said Mr Rajput.
A look at the history of Himachal Pradesh Polls:
At present, the Congress has 35 and the BJP has 28 MLAs in the 68-member House besides four independents while one seat is vacant.
Till the 1967 assembly polls, the Congress had a monopoly and barring splinter parties which won two or three seats, Independents filled the gap of the opposition.
After merger of Punjab hill areas in November 1966, the assembly polls were held in 1967 and the Congress won 34 out of 60 seats and the Bhartiya Jan Sangh, for the first time, won seven seats. Two seats were bagged by the CPI, one by the Swatantra Party while independents recorded victory on 16 seats.
However, in the 1972 assembly polls, held close on the heels of the Indo-Pak war, the Congress came back to power, winning 53 out of 68 seats while the Jan Sangh won five seats and Independents bagged seven seats.
The Congress and the Jan Sangh polled 53.54 and 7.75 per cent votes while Independents cornered 28.27 per cent votes. The Congress fortress was finally demolished by the Janata wave in 1977, leading to the emergence of a two-party system.
The CPM and the CPI together secured only about two per cent votes. The Congress staged a comeback in the 1980 Lok Sabha poll, winning all four seats with 52.88 per cent votes as against 36.38 per cent polled by the Janata Party.
The Janata Party, the CPI and the CPM accounted for eight per cent of votes.
Riding on the sympathy wave in the wake of Indira Gandhi's assassination, the Congress swept the 1984 Lok Sabha elections winning all four seats with a record 67.58 per cent votes. The BJP's percentage dropped to 23.27.
Sensing the mood of the people, the then Congress government went for snap polls, winning 58 out of the total 68 seats while the strength of the BJP was reduced to seven.
However in the 1989 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won three out of four seats and in the ensuing assembly polls in 1990, the BJP entered into an alliance with the Janata Dal and the combination won 58 seats( BJP-47, JD-11) while the Congress got only nine seats.
The BJP and the Congress polled 41.77 and 37.35 per cent votes while the Janata Dal, which contested 17 seats got 10.82 per cent votes.
In the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, the two parties shared the two seats each even though the Congress polled 46.16 per cent votes, about 3.5 per cent more than the BJP. The Congress returned to power with a bang in 1993, winning 54 seats.
The BJP won only eight and its vote share declined to 36.18 per cent while the Congress polled 49.36 per cent votes.
The Congress won all four Lok Sabha seats in the 1996 elections, improving its vote percentage to 54.33 while BJP polled 39.62 per cent votes.
The emergence of the Himachal Vikas Congress, a breakaway faction of the Congress in the 1998 assembly polls, severely dented the Congress vote bank polling 9.63 per cent votes against 43.51 and 39.09 per cent votes polled by the Congress and the BJP - a new dimension to the political scene in 1998. The HVC won only five seats, but led to defeat of the Congress in another 14 seats.
The Congress and the BJP won 31 seats each and the BJP formed a coalition government with the Himachal Vikas Congress.
Ahead of the 2003 assembly polls, the BJP and HVC parted ways and the Congress won 43 seats with 41 per votes while the BJP got 16 seats with vote share of 35.38 per cent and HVC was decimated getting one seat with 5.87 per cent votes.
The BJP won majority on its own in the 2007 assembly polls for the first time and won 41 seats while the Congress won 23 seats and BSP got three and Independents only one seat.
The BJP and the Congress polled 43.78 and 39.54 per cent votes. Ahead of the 2012 polls, BJP dissidents floated the Himachal Lokhit Party (HLP) which won only one seat but cornered 4.52 per cent votes.
The Congress and the BJP won 36 and 26 seats polling 43.21 and 38.83 per cent votes. Independents candidates polled 15.87 votes and five independents were elected.
This time there is no third force and as the Congress and the BJP have been returning to power alternately since 1985, the BJP is claiming that it is their turn to stage a comeback.
(With Inputs From PTI)