The votes for the legislative assemblies of four states -- Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Telangana -- will be counted amid tight security arrangements on Sunday, in the final stretch of the battle billed as the semifinal before the mega final in 2024.
However, the counting of votes in Mizoram, which also went to polls along with four other states last month, has been pushed back to December 4, Monday, the Election Commission (EC) informed earlier.
The counting of votes at designated centres will begin at 8 am on Sunday.
The polling in five states, straddling the north, east and southern parts of the country, is tipped to set the course of the political headwinds going into the Lok Sabha elections next year.
Confirming the rescheduling of counting in the tiny Northeast state earlier, the poll panel the decision was taken following representations from civil society in the state, as Sunday holds a special significance for the people in the Christian-majority state.
The votes will be counted for 230 seats in Madhya Pradesh, 90 seats in Chhattisgarh, 119 in Telangana and 199 seats in Rajasthan.
However, polling for one seat in Rajasthan was pushed back earlier following the death of the Congress candidate.
"All arrangements for the counting of votes in Chhattisgarh have been completed and officials in adequate numbers have been posted for the purpose in all the 90 assembly constituencies," the state's chief electoral officer, Reena Baba Saheb Kangale, told reporters on Saturday.
"The counting of votes will start from 8 am in all 90 assembly constituencies. For the counting process, we have assigned 90 returning officers, 416 assistant returning officers, 4596 counting personnel and 1698 micro-observers," Kangale added.
Meanwhile, speaking to ANI on Saturday, Praveen Gupta, the chief electoral officer for Rajasthan, said all arrangements have been put in place to ensure that the counting of votes goes off without a hitch.
"All the arrangements are in place for the counting day and the officials have arrived at the designated centres as well. The votes will be counted across 36 centres at the headquarters of district election officers in a centralised manner. All necessary preparations have been made to ensure that the process goes off without a hitch," Gupta told ANI.
"Adequate security arrangements have been made at all counting centres in the state. Counting for the 199 Assembly constituencies will begin at 8 am tomorrow. Once the strong room is opened, the postal ballots, which number about 5 lakh, will be counted first. A total of 1121 assistant returning officers (ARO) have been assigned for the counting process," the CEO added.
Adequate security arrangements have also been made in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, which will see the fates of candidates vying for 236 Assembly seats being decided on counting day.
Speaking to ANI about the security arrangements at the counting centres, the Commissioner of Police, Bhopal, Harinarayan Chari Mishra, said, "Adequate police personnel have been deployed for the counting of votes tomorrow. The teams will evaluate and further stock of the security arrangements in and around the counting centres once the counting gets underway tomorrow. The movement of traffic will be diverted on the main road tomorrow."
Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) personnel have also been deployed to keep watch on the electronic voting machines (EVMs) and take them from strong rooms to counting centres, the CEO informed, adding that requisite security arrangements have also been made outside the counting centres.
Earlier, the exit polls, which were broadcast at the end of polling in Telangana on November 30, Thursday, threw up varied numbers for the five states, giving an edge to the BJP in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan while putting Congress in a clear lead in Telangana and Chhattisgarh.
Further, according to pollsters, the ruling MNF was ahead in power sweepstakes in Mizoram.
While the exit polls were almost unanimous in giving an edge to the Congress in Telangana, a few predicted a close contest in Rajasthan, giving the Congress a slender lead.
According to one exit-poll projection, the Congress was ahead in the race for the hustings in Madhya Pradesh as well.
If Congress can retain Rajasthan along with Chhattisgarh and oust the ruling BRS from Telangana, it will be a major morale booster for the party.
Exit polls predicted that Congress is poised to form government in Telangana and that the ruling Bharat Rashtra Samithi (BRS) would fall short of the majority after its 10-year rule in India's youngest state.
In Madhya Pradesh, most exit polls said that the BJP has a clear advantage, as they predicted Congress falling short in its poll effort in the state where it was expecting to gain from "anti-incumbency" against the government.
Most exit polls predicted that the BJP, which has ruled the state for almost 18 of the past 20 years, is set for another term in office with a huge majority. An exit poll gave advantage to the Congress and another predicted that the two parties were on an equal footing.
Madhya Pradesh went to the polls on November 17 for its 230 seats and the counting of votes along with that in four other states will take place on December 3.
In Rajsathan, exit polls reinforced the perception of a hard contest with differences in their prediction of the winner in the crucial Hindi heartland state that has a nearly three-decade tradition of not repeating an incumbent government.
The exit poll predictions showed that "others" including smaller parties and independents could play a crucial role in the formation of the government when the results are announced on December 3. Rajasthan went to the polls on 199 of 200 assembly seats on November 25.
In Chhattisgarh, exit polls gave Congress a clear edge, showing that the ruling party in the state is poised to return to power with the BJP also expected to put up a good contest unlike in the 2018 polls.
The polls, held months before the Lok Sabha polls, are crucial for BJP and Congress for various reasons.