Polling began Friday morning for assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, where 2,533 candidates, including Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and his predecessor Kamal Nath are in the fray for 230 assembly seats, in a largely straight contest between the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress.
Polling is being held from 7 am to 6 pm in all the assembly segments except in Baihar, Lanjhi and Paraswada seats in Balaghat district, 55 booths in Mandla district's Bichhiya and Mandla seats and 40 polling stations of Dindori district, all Naxalite affected, where voting time is 7 am to 3 pm, an official said.
The single-phase voting covering all the 230 assembly seats -- 47 of them reserved for Scheduled Tribes and 35 for Scheduled Castes -- has more than 5.6 crore registered electors, the official said.
Mock poll was conducted in the presence of authorized polling agents 90 minutes before the actual start of voting, the official said.
Voting is underway in 64,626 polling stations set up in the state. They include 64,523 main booths and 103 associate (sahayak) stations, where the number of voters is more than 1,500.
As many as 5,60,58,521 voters, including 2,87,82,261 males, 2,71,99,586 females and 1,292 third gender persons, are eligible to exercise their franchise. The voters also include service and overseas electors.
A total of 2,533 candidates of political parties and independents -- 2,280 males, 252 females and one third gender person -- are vying to enter the state assembly.
The number of "critical" voting stations is 17,032, while 5,260 booths have all-women polling staff, the official said.
Booths which recorded very high turnout or witnessed any sort of violence during previous elections are designated as "critical polling stations".
As many as 183 polling stations have been set up for persons with disabilities.
For the first time, 371 youth-managed booths have been set up, while the number of "model" polling stations stands at 2,536.
Fifty-seven "green" booths (environment-friendly centres) -- 50 in Jabalpur and seven in Balaghat -- have also been established, he said.
For maintaining law and order during polls, prohibitory action was taken against 1,90,233 persons and 2,69,318 licensed weapons were deposited with authorities, the official said, adding 1,142 FIRs (first information reports) were registered for violation of the poll code.
In the 230 assembly seats spread across 52 districts, a total of 73,622 Ballot Units (BUs), 64,626 Central Units (CUs) and 64,626 VVPAT (Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail) units are being used for conducting polling.
VVPAT system keeps a physical trail of all votes cast. It allows voters to verify their votes are cast as intended.
Besides Chief Minister Chouhan (Budhni) and state Congress president Kamal Nath (Chhindwara), three Union ministers from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) -- Narendra Singh Tomar, Prahlad Patel and Faggan Singh Kulaste -- are contesting the polls.
BJP general secretary Kailash Vijaywrgiya is contesting from Indore-1 and three Lok Sabha MPs of the saffron party -- Rakesh Singh, Ganesh Singh and Riti Pathak -- are also in the fray.
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh's son and ex-state minister Jaivardhan Singh and former chief minister Arjun Singh's son Ajay Singh are contesting from their traditional Raghogarh and Churhat seats, respectively.
Besides main contenders for power Congress and the BJP, the Aam Aadmi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party, among others, have also fielded their candidates.
The high-decibel campaigning came to an end on Wednesday evening. Top leaders criss-crossed the state addressing rallies, holding road shows, trading charges and making a slew of promises to seek votes for their candidates.
The electioneering saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP president JP Nadda, Union minister Rajnath Singh and Chouhan, among others, addressing rallies to drum up support for the saffron party nominees.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, party leaders Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra, Nath and Digvijaya Singh, among others, addressed rallies to seek support for their party nominees.
Modi made nine visits to the state and addressed 14 public meetings after the elections were announced. The BJP is heavily banking on his charisma to retain power.
The Congress, with 114 seats, emerged as the single largest party after the 2018 polls and formed the government with the help of BSP, SP and independent MLAs under the leadership of Kamal Nath.
However, the Nath regime collapsed in March 2020 after a rebellion by now Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia and Congress MLAs loyal to him, paving the way for the return of the BJP.