New Delhi: Uttar Pradesh and four other states will likely go to polls simultaneously, most likely in February-March, shortly after the presentation of the Union budget.
While it will be a single-day polling in Punjab, Goa, Uttarakhand and Manipur, Uttar Pradesh is likely to have as many as seven phases, Election Commission officials familiar with the matter said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which had swept the Lok Sabha elections more than two years ago, winning 70 of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh, is seeking to make a comeback by wresting power after 15 years from the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP). The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is expected to give a stiff challenge to both of them.
In Punjab, after two successive terms, the ruling (Shiromani Akali Dal) SAD-BJP alliance is facing a tough battle from Congress on the one hand and a fledgeling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) on the other.
Uttarakhand, where the ruling Congress staged a sensational comeback this year following a legal battle, is fighting anti-incumbency and facing challenge from the BJP. Goa, where the ruling BJP is seeking a fresh term, is pitted against Congress and AAP. In Manipur, the Congress is seeking to retain power.
As a matter of abundant precaution, the government approached the Commission for clearing its proposal to present the Union budget in Lok Sabha on 1 February and avoid criticism of violating the model code of conduct that will come into force the day elections are announced.
The Commission had no objection to the budget exercise being carried on because of the fact that it would cover the entire country and was not specific to the poll-bound states, people aware of the development said. It has also been conveyed to the government that caution should be exercised so that overtly populist measures are not included in the budget aimed at voters in these states.
The Commission is working on a schedule for the polls, which should be completed by the middle of March so that new assemblies in these states could be constituted well in time before the expiry of their tenure. It is working out the requirements about security forces with the centre and the states concerned for ensuring that the polls are free and fair.
Nearly a lakh of state police and central armed police force personnel may be deployed to ensure that the electoral exercise is smooth and free from violence and malpractices like booth capturing. Chief election commissioner Nasim Zaidi had recently said, “We are trying to assess the requirement of security forces, climate and exam schedule—all these inputs are being taken into consideration. Only then we will be able to say whether they will be staggered or multi-phase. While the term of the Uttar Pradesh assembly ends on May 27, 2017, those of Goa, Manipur and Punjab end on March 18. The Uttarakhand Assembly’s term ends on March 27."