Sonia, Rahul, Priyanka among early voters: brisk polling in Delhi (Afternoon Lead)

New Delhi, Dec 4: Long queues formed outside poll booths as voting warmed up Wednesday afternoon for the crucial Delhi state elections that is seeing 810 candidates battle it out for the 70-member assembly.

While the voting in the morning hours was slow, notching four percent till 9 a.m., it picked up as the warm winter sun shone – going up to 17 percent by 11 a.m. and to 34 percent by 1 p.m.

Among the prominent early voters were Vice President Hamid Ansari, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit. They cast their votes at the Nirman Bhavan polling station in New Delhi constituency.

In fact, Rahul Gandhi stood in the queue for around half an hour for his turn. His mother Sonia Gandhi and Sheila Dikshit also stood in line for some time, before they were escorted inside.

Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka Gandhi, dressed smartly in beige skirt and full-sleeved top, accompanied by her husband Robert Vadra also turned up to vote.

The voting this time is witnessing more enthusiasm among people with the entry of a new outfit – the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of Arvind Kejriwal, that has queered the pitch of the fight over the ballot which for decades has been between the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Of the 34 percent voters who cast their ballots till 1p.m., males formed 38 percent, while females were 32 percent.

From the prestigious New Delhi constituency, where Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit of the Congress and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal are battling it out, 43 percent voting was recorded till 2 p.m.

Over 11.9 million voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in Wednesday’s poll. Ballot count will be held Dec 8.

Burari in north Delhi has the highest number of candidates at 23, while Patel Nagar in West Delhi has just four candidates.

This time, the Delhi voting is expected to exceed the 2008 figure of 57.58 percent.

The polling figures in the four other states where elections were held – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram and Chhattisgarh — were over 70 percent. Mizorom notched 82 percent.

Three-time Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit has dismissed speculation that anti-incumbency would see her government teetering, saying she hoped people would vote for the development work done by the Congress government.

“I am hopeful that people will vote for development and the work done by us in the last 15 years. I would not want to say how many seats we will win,” she said. Dikshit said it was a direct fight between the Congress and the BJP and she did not view the AAP as a strong contender.

The BJP has projected doctor-politician Harsh Vardhan as its chief ministerial candidate while Kejriwal, an engineer-turned taxman-turned political wannabe, is the face of the AAP. He has won over a big following, promising to end corruption, and slash electricity and water tariffs.

Harsh Vardhan has claimed his party is ahead of both the Congress and AAP.

“BJP is far ahead of the Congress and the AAP. It is the Congress and the AAP who are contesting for the second position. Nobody can make a dent in our vote bank,” Harsh Vardhan told reporters after casting his vote in the Krishna Nagar constituency.

Kejriwal said he was confident of the results being in his favour.

“People are ready, they have made up their mind to remove the corrupt. I am very confident of the results. It will not be my victory but that of the people,” he said.

However, many pre-poll surveys have predicted a hung assembly for Delhi.

IANS