EC announces poll dates for 5 states, defers decision on J&K

EC announces poll dates for 5 states, defers decision on J&K

New Delhi: The Election Commission of India, or EC, on Tuesday announced one-day polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Mizoram and a two-phased election in Chhattisgarh, thus setting the stage for the general elections due next year.

It, however, deferred a decision on holding assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, or J&K, which is under President’s rule.

The polls will be held on 14 and 20 November in Chhattisgarh, on 25 November in Madhya Pradesh and Mizoram and on 29 November in Delhi. Rajasthan will go to polls on 4 December.

Counting of votes in all these states will take place on 8 December.

With the next Lok Sabha elections due sometime early next year, these assembly elections are expected to determine which way the wind blows.

The EC, which announced the poll dates, however, didn’t indicate whether elections in J&K would be held before the expiry of President’s rule on 10 January. “We are yet to take a decision on Jammu and Kashmir. We are still assessing the situation there," chief election commissioner N Gopalaswami said.

Speculations are rife about differences among the election commissioners regarding polls in J&K.

The Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, meanwhile, has demanded that elections in J&K be held at the earliest.

“It is very intriguing since the Congress had earlier said it would go with whatever the EC decides and now one does not know whether elections here are not being held because of inadequate security or divisions within the EC. As for the other states, BJP welcomes the poll dates and is fully prepared for elections," said BJP general secretary Arun Jaitely.

The Congress also welcomed the announcement of poll dates and said it, too, was geared up for polls. “We welcome the announcement. We are fully prepared and would go the electorate with our achievements," Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said. He also said it was up to the EC to decide whether or not the situation in J&K was conducive for holding elections.

Elections in states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi are believed to be crucial since they have traditionally been two-party states with either the Congress or the BJP holding the reins. Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, or BSP, however, is expected to play the role of a significant third force for the first time--this time around. Incidentally, the BSP is the only party which has already named its candidates for the elections, unlike the Congress and BJP which are yet to come out with their list of candidates.

The BSP has said it will contest from all assembly seats in these five states and has declared its candidates for 190 of a total 200 assembly constituencies in Rajasthan, 66 of Delhi’s 70 assembly seats and 62 of Madhya Pradesh’s 230.

“The BSP is going to be a crucial factor in these elections and it will split the Congress’ votes. According to my calculations, in Delhi alone it will deprive the Congress of almost 17 seats. However, I do not believe that these elections will impact or determine the general elections since the issues at state and national elections are very different. Further, Lok Sabha elections are only in March and several things might change by then," said Bidyut Chakrabarty, professor at the department of political science at Delhi University.

These elections are particularly crucial for the Congress which saw the tide turn against it when it lost 12 state elections since it assumed power at the Centre in 2004, including key states such as Karnataka, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

Currently, while BJP rules Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Congress has been in power in Delhi for two terms and the Mizo National Front government is in power Mizoram.

The model code of conduct for these elections, conveyed to all political parties, comes into force immediately. The EC has sent a revised list of instructions regarding elections to the ministry of home affairs, state chief secretaries and the chief electoral officers of states.

Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu contributed to this story