Poll fever

Poll fever

''The elections will indicate voter preferences.''

The announcement of Assembly elections in five states including Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand has charged the political atmosphere in the country as the outcome will be important for the UPA government at the Centre, its major partner, the Congress, and its main rival at the national level, the BJP. Though the elections are not geographically spread out and are concentrated mainly in one part of the country, they can send out clear political signals.

UP is specially important because of its size and  position as the state which has the largest number of Lok Sabha seats. Rahul Gandhi is directly in charge of the Congress campaign in the state and the party has tied up with Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) for the elections. The Congress hopes to improve on its present dismal record in the state and replace the Mayawati government with a more friendly dispensation involving Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party and the RLD. The results of the Assembly elections can also change the complexion of the Rajya Sabha where the UPA is in a minority now. They are also important from the point of view of the Presidential elections which are to be held next year.

Apart from implications for the future, the election outcome will also have an influence on the present standing of the UPA government. It has lost a lot of its political strength and ability to govern because of corruption charges and the challenge posed by the civil society movement led by Anna Hazare.  It will be a shot in the arm for the Congress if it can regain Punjab from the Akali Dal-BJP alliance and Uttarakhand form the BJP. Conversely, a setback in these two states and a failure to improve its performance in UP will hurt the BJP as it is set to challenge the UPA in the next Lok Sabha elections.

The elections in the small states Goa and Manipur may not have much national significance but are important for the two states where the present Congress governments are not best placed. The poll schedule stretches from January 28 to March 3. The Election Commission will face the most serious challenge in UP where it has planned a seven-phase polling. All other states will have single day polling. The EC should  ensure that  there is fair campaigning and free elections in all the states and the poll code is respected in letter and spirit.

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