Shimla, May 23 : The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Himachal Pradesh is leading with a good margin on all the state's four Lok Sabha seats as per trends in the first two hours of counting of ballots on Thursday, election officials said.
Counting of 38 lakh votes for the Shimla, Mandi, Hamirpur and Kangra parliamentary seats began 8 a.m. amid tight security.
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.
Forty-five candidates, including a lone woman, are 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 Jai Ram Thakur government.
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, the battle is between two former servicemen.
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 former 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.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had won all the four seats.