March 4, 2012 promises to be a big day for India, and one that shows the United Progressive Alliance exactly where it stands with the public about two years before it readies for general elections.
The Election Commission has just announced the dates for assembly polls in five states – Manipur (which has 60 constituencies), Punjab (117), Uttrakhand (70), Goa (40) and the all-important Uttar Pradesh (with a huge 403 constituencies). Preparations for the poll will begin in earnest on January 28, in what will also be a litmus test of anti-corruption campaigner Anna Hazare's ability to swing votes. Electronic voting is expected to allow counting to be completed in a single day, with results ready March 4.
UP, the most populous state in the country, will have a seven-phase election, on February 4, 8, 11, 15, 19, 23 and 28, while the remaining four states will have single-phase polling, with Manipur the first on January 28. Goa will be the final state to head to the polls, on March 3. The Election Commission announced the dates after ensuring that the around 80,000 security personnel involved in ensuring a safe and fair election can deployed adequately.
The Commission issued a press release outlining the provisions of its model code, including that “There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes. Mosques, churches, temples or other places of worship shall not be used as forums for election propaganda.”
The Commission also announced that all key events throughout the poll process, including the filing of nominations, scrutiny, storage of electronic voting machines and the counting of votes, will be filmed. The EC is also expected to keep a close eye on the media, which is normally inundated with so-called paid news items during the election season. With this in mind, the commission has set up monitoring committees.
The Congress party will be looking to seize power in Punjab and Uttrakhand, and will clearly hope for a good showing in UP by finishing no worse than third, and above the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP for its part will be keen to retain power in Uttrakhand and will hope to see its ally Shiromani Akali Dal score a second consecutive win.
But as I mentioned earlier, though, all eyes will also be on Hazare and his team, who for months have been threatening to campaign against the Congress in the five states.