Shimla, May 23 Counting of 38 lakh votes for the Shimla, Mandi, Hamirpur and Kangra parliamentary seats of Himachal Pradesh began on Thursday amid tight security, officials said.
A total of 38,01,793 voters -- 72.25 per cent of 52,62,126 eligible ones -- exercised their franchise on May 19 in a single phase to select their representatives to the 17th Lok Sabha.
The main contest is between the Congress and the state's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Forty-five candidates, including a lone woman, were in the fray for the four seats.
With the electorate in the Lok Sabha polls traditionally favouring the party at the helm in the state, these elections are being seen as a referendum on the state's 17-month-old BJP government.
The BJP wrested the state from the Congress in December 2017, winning 44 seats in the 68-member Assembly. The Congress won 21 seats, Independents two and the Communist Party of India-Marxist won one.
From Kangra, the largest Lok Sabha constituency in the state in terms of voters, the BJP has fielded Cabinet Minister Kishan Kapoor, 68, after dropping veteran leader Shanta Kumar, against two-time Congress legislator Pawan Kajal, 44.
In the Shimla (reserved) seat, it is an ex-serviceman versus an ex-serviceman.
Colonel Dhani Ram Shandil (retired), 78, is the Congress candidate against BJP nominee and former Indian Air Force (IAF) officer Suresh Kashyap, 48.
In Hamirpur, two-time Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal is trying to ensure a fourth term for his son Anurag Thakur, former chief of the state and national cricket bodies.
Pitted against Thakur, 44, is ex-wrestler and five-time Congress legislator Ram Lal Thakur.
Sitting BJP MP and the Chief Minister's confidant Ram Swaroop Sharma is seeking a second term from Mandi. He is contesting against Congress greenhorn Ashray Sharma, who is the grandson of former Telecom Minister Sukh Ram.
Sukh Ram, a Congress veteran, had joined the BJP just before the Assembly elections, but defected back after his grandson was denied a ticket.
Ashray's father Anil Sharma still remains in the saffron party and though he has not campaigned either for his son or for his party in these elections, his father is more than making up for it.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had won all the four seats.
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