The Election Commission announced assembly polls in five states Wednesday, setting the stage for what is being widely described as the first big test for the ruling BJP since the government’s ban on Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 notes. Voting for Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur will be held over phases from February 4 to March 8. UP, the largest of the five states with 403 seats, will vote in seven phases from February 11 to March 8. Manipur will vote in two phases in March while the remaining three states will hold elections in a single phase.
The results for all five states will be announced on March 11. The Election Commission’s decision to go ahead with elections in Manipur was against the home ministry’s advice. On Monday, senior home officials had met the election commissioners and said that law and order in some of the districts was not conducive because of the blockade by Naga rebels.
Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi justified the decision, saying it was taken only after “extensive consultation” with all stakeholders including the state government, the chief electoral officer and political parties. “We are in a position to conduct polls and we expect cooperation from the people of Manipur,” Zaidi told reporters.
Covering 690 seats and 16 crore voters collectively, this set of state polls comes in the wake of demonetisation as well as the Supreme Court verdict calling electioneering in the name of religion a corrupt practice. Asked how the Election Commission will enforce the court’s order, Zaidi said that the EC’s law division is drafting instructions based on the verdict.
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Zaidi said the EC expects less black money to be used in the five state polls in the wake of demonetisation. “We are told that use of black money will be less. But with black money going down, candidates will use other means to lure voters,” he said.
Asked about speculation that the EC waited for the PM’s rally in Lucknow before announcing the poll schedule, he said, “This is in the realm of conjecture. Election Commission of India has historically been an independent and autonomous institution under the Constitution.. We have left no stone unturned to make last-minute preparation. In any preparation there are loose ends and we can’t afford to have that before announcing the schedule. When we visited the states political parties during consultation has requested that elections be held after Christmas and New Year. Only last evening the EC was fully satisfied and felt that the machinery was ready to hold elections.”