Wiser after allegations of large-scale “rigging” in Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal in the previous phases, the Election Commission (EC) is now set to walk the extra mile to ensure free and fair polling in the eighth phase of the current Lok Sabha elections on Wednesday.
The poll panel on Tuesday claimed to have put in place “all possible measures” to stall electoral malpractices during the eighth round.
The 64 constituencies going to polls in the penultimate phase of balloting are spread across seven states. The focus, however, remains on Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, where the Congress first family’s clash with BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has reached a flashpoint.
Seeking re-election from his family pocket-borough of Amethi, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is pitted against the BJP's actor-turned-politician Smriti Irani. The BJP’s campaign in Amethi concluded with Modi addressing a heavily-attended rally on Monday. Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, daughter of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, on the other hand, led her party’s bid to hold fort.
Apart from Amethi, 14 other constituencies in Uttar Pradesh will go to polls on Wednesday, including Sultanpur, from where BJP national secretary and Rahul and Priyanka's cousin Varun Gandhi, another inheritor of Nehru-Gandhi legacy, is contesting. The Congress has fielded Amita Singh, wife of sitting Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Singh, against him.
According to the EC, 9,55,22,471 voters are expected to exercise their franchise through 3,83,650 Electronic Voting Machines in 1,07,430 polling stations to decide the fate of 897 candidates in 64 constituencies on Wednesday.
Apart from Uttar Pradesh, 25 constituencies in the Seemandhra region of Andhra Pradesh, seven in Bihar, four in Himachal Pradesh, two in Jammu and Kashmir, five in Uttarakhand and six in West Bengal will also go to polls in the penultimate phase of balloting.
The Congress is facing a tough challenge from the YSR Congress as well as the Telugu Desam Party and its ally BJP in Seemandhra, where the UPA government is being blamed for the move to carve out the new state of Telangana from Andhra Pradesh.
While Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal is perceived to be regaining lost ground in Bihar after the ruling Janata Dal (United) snapped ties with the BJP, his wife Rabri Devi is among the 118 candidates trying their luck in Bihar.
Polling for six seats in West Bengal has become all the more significant after the recent war of words between Modi and Trinamool Congress chief and state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
“Those who disturb the poll process would be dealt with strongly,” said Deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi, while briefing mediapersons on Wednesday about poll preparations.
The additional measures include stepping up surveillance and security in polling stations candidates identified as prone to disturbances. The names and phone numbers of the returning officers, assistant returning officers and other poll-related officials will be displayed in front of all polling stations.