Poll dates for 5 states announced
Beginning Feb 4, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and UP to vote in PM’s big post-DeMo test
The election commission has drawn a grueling over two-month-long schedule for assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa, which will keep the central government on the tenterhooks as they coincide with the budget session of Parliament.
Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most politically crucial state, will see a staggered poll stretched in seven phases from February 11 to March 8. Goa (40 seats), Punjab (117 seats) and Uttarakhand (71 seats) will have a single phase polling while Manipur, though a small assembly with 60 seats, will have two polling dates on March 4 and 8 due to the sensitive law and order situation. Goa and Punjab will see polling on February 4 and Uttarakhand on February 15. Though the elections covers small states barring Uttar Pradesh, the polls will be seen as a first real referendum on prime minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation move. The five states have 16 crore eligible voters who will cast votes in 1.85 lakh polling stations.
Uttar Pradesh, through its sheer size, is the focus of these elections, as the politics in the states will have a direct bearing on national politics. The ruling Samajwadi Party will fight the anti-incumbency factor. The recent family feud pushing the party on the verge of a split, has not helped their cause and provides an opportunity for rivals like the BJP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to win over voters.
The BJP, which had swept Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh in 2014, is hoping to repeat the same performance and return to power after 15 years. The party is relying of prime minister Narendra Modi’s image as a clean and decisive leader to make the electoral dent and displace opponents. It is the BJP vs. the rest in the multi-party fight with the Congress and the BSP hoping to make gains.
BSP supremo Mayawati, who has been the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh thrice, wants to regain ground that she lost during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The Congress, which has remained a distant fourth, sees a role for itself in possible alliances. Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav is one of the most prominent faces for the chief ministerial race facing stiff competition from Mayawati. The Congress has projected Sheila Dikshit as its leader while the BJP has not named any chief ministerial face. The BJP, relying on the vote catching charisma of Modi, is aware that the party had lost Bihar elections in the absence of a credible chief ministerial candidate.
The battle in Punjab will see a triangular contest for the first time. The BJP-Akali Dal (Badal) government is looking for a third straight term. It faces a direct challenge from the Congress and the new entrant Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
In Uttarakhand, Congress chief minister Harish Rawat will defend his turf. Rawat survived a rebellion, but it remains to be seen if the BJP will be able to best him in elections.
Goa may be a small state, but it is making its mark politically at the national level. The BJP government in the state is facing stiff challenge from the Congress, which is looking at a comeback. The entry of AAP in Goa for the first time has made the polls even more complex.
In Manipur, CM Okram Idobi Singh of the Congress is hoping to save his government. The union home ministry had claimed recently that the condition in the state was not conducive for holding elections in wake of the economic blockade by the United Naga Council.
Columnist: 
Gautam Datt
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