Updated: April 13, 2021 3:48:40 pm
WHILE all eyes have been on the bitterly contested Assembly elections in four states and one Union Territory, a phenomenally bigger exercise is on way in Uttar Pradesh, amid a fast-ticking Covid clock.
For just the first phase of panchayat elections in UP, for 2.21 lakh posts across 20 districts, Returning Officers are sifting through around 3.40 lakh nominations — with the process still far from done, as affidavits of candidates also have to be uploaded online this time. Officials expect the eventual numbers to go up to 3.50 lakh, much like in 2015. “If we compare just the block panchayat, zila panchayat and gram pradhan seats in the first phase, the number is 10 times that of the state’s Vidhan Sabha,” Additional Election Commissioner Ved Prakash Verma said.
The interest is significant given that it is the first time all the major political parties are openly backing candidates for panchayat elections in Uttar Pradesh — making the polls a virtual semi-final for the Assembly polls next year. Among those in the race are the Aam Aadmi Party, AIMIM and Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad’s Azad Samaj Party, which are making their debut in the state.
The total number, across four phases, for close to 8.69 lakh posts is expected to reach around 17 lakh nominations. In comparison, around 4,850 candidates contested for the 403 Uttar Pradesh Assembly seats in 2017.
Given the numbers, just getting the applicants to adhere to Covid norms is turning out to be a nightmare for officials, with Verma himself now down with the coronavirus. Photos have emerged of long queues and unruly crowds scrambling for forms before nomination deadlines, without masks and not following any social distancing. Before the nomination process began, instructions had been issued by the SEC to all District Magistrates that the supporters of candidates coming to file nominations should be stopped short of a radius of at least 200 metres around the premises. Only the candidate, his election agent, proposer and one person was to be allowed to enter. However, this has barely been followed.
The ruling BJP is going into the contest expecting some backlash over the new farm laws, especially in western UP. The party’s big guns, from state president Swatantra Dev Singh to national vice-president and UP in-charge Radha Mohan Singh, have been criss-crossing the state.
Among those in the panchayat race are a Miss India 2015 contestant and model Diksha Singh (for zila panchayat post, Ward No. 26, Jaunpur); Srikala Singh, a BJP member and the wife of gangster-turned-politician and murder accused Dhananjay Singh (Ward No. 45, Jaunpur); and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s niece Sandhya Yadav, backed by the BJP (for a Mainpuri district panchayat seat). The BJP Sunday withdrew the candidature of Sangeeta Sengar, wife of ex-BJP MP and rape convict Kuldeep Singh Sengar (for Unnao district panchayat Ward No. 22).
Elections are being held for four levels of posts — gram panchayat, gram pradhan, block panchayat and zila panchayat. Officials expect at least half the posts of gram panchayat members to go unopposed, and 18-20% to go uncontested.
Verma said there was another difference from previous years. “Earlier districts used to be distributed into four sections for four phases — in other words, they had a block-wise model. This year, there is a district-wise model, meaning one entire district is going to election in a single phase.”
Verma said the SEC was aware of the problem of Covid norms being violated. “We are examining the situation and are issuing directions to the respective DMs as Covid cases are once again increasing at a fast pace.” Uttar Pradesh is seeing an average of 13,000 to 15,000 cases daily, with active caseload at 81,576.
The Additional Election Commissioner added, “Also, nomination is just the initial phase and this way the situation might worsen during voting.”
In the first phase, Saharanpur, Ghaziabad, Rampur, Bareilly, Hathras, Agra, Kanpur Nagar, Jhansi, Mahoba, Prayagraj, Rae Bareli, Hardoi, Ayodhya, Shravasti, Sant Kabir Nagar, Gorakhpur, Jaunpur and Bhadohi will vote on April 15. The second phase will see voting on April 19, the third phase on April 26 and the fourth phase on April 29.
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