New Delhi: Counting of votes in Assembly polls in five states will take place on Saturday amid tight security with the most riveting contest in Uttar Pradesh, seen as a game changer and a virtual referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popularity and his reforms agenda. The Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance in Uttar Pradesh is hoping to stop the BJP juggernaut, which had earlier stumbled in Bihar and Delhi, and lead the way for opposition unity in the run up to the 2019 general election.
Congress is claiming it will wrest power in Punjab and retain its hold in Uttarakhand and Manipur. The election is also important for the nascent Aam Aadmi Party, which is hoping for success in its maiden outing in Assembly elections outside Delhi and has put up a spirited fight in Punjab and Goa. Counting of votes will start at 8 am on Saturday. Tens of thousands of central forces personnel were being deployed at the polling centres, including 20,000 personnel in Uttar Pradesh.
In Uttar Pradesh which has a 403-member Assembly, 78 counting centres have been set up in 75 districts. Fifteen counting centres have been established in Uttarakhand where the Assembly strength is 70. Votes will be counted at 54 centres in 27 locations set up for election to 117-member Punjab Assembly. In Goa, votes will be counted at two centres in North and South Goa to declare the winners in 40 seats. In Manipur, counting of votes will be held for 60 seats.
The Election Commission has issued strict guidelines on security arrangements for counting of votes and has prohibited mobile phones inside the counting halls. In addition to general observers, a micro-observer will be deputed at each and every counting table. A three-tier security arrangement has been made in and around the counting centres. Only central forces will be deployed inside the counting centres while local police will be deployed in the outer circle and forces from other states will be around the centres to prevent entry of any unauthorised persons.
A senior magistrate will be posted at the entrance to control the crowd and regulate the entry. The 100-metre area around a counting premise or campus is to be demarcated as pedestrian zone and no vehicles shall be allowed within this perimeter. Additional CCTV cameras will be installed at locations from where the carrying of EVMs from strong rooms to the counting hall can be effectively monitored. Exit polls have projected a hung assembly in Uttar Pradesh and Goa, with BJP likely to lead the table. They forecast a close fight in Punjab between the Congress, which is seeking to return to power after a hiatus of 10 years, and Arvind Kejriwal's AAP. The Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine could be in for a drubbing in the state.
They have predicted victory for BJP in Uttarakhand. A good show by the BJP, especially in Uttar Pradesh, will be seen as a reaffirmation of Modi's standing among the masses and popular endorsement of his agenda, especially demonetisation. It will also boost its president's Amit Shah's authority as capturing power in Uttar Pradesh has been a dream project for the party after it was reduced to the margins of the state politics that it ruled for much of the 1990s.
Shah has been seen as the architect of the party's outreach to various social groups, mostly OBCs and sections of Dalits, and some experts believed that it might have antagonised its core support base and also old loyalists, who were passed over by him in the distribution of tickets. A BJP win in the state polls will also boost its strength in the Rajya Sabha where the Congress-led opposition has been able to block the government's legislative agenda due to its numerical superiority.
Despite grim exit poll projections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Goa, the Congress put up a brave face on Friday saying it will win all five states. The Congress also sought to insulate party vice-president from any negative fallout saying poll results are never a referendum on any single individual. Senior Congress leader and party's UP general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad said, "The SP-Congress alliance will win UP elections despite exit poll claims." Asked if Rahul Gandhi, who spearheaded the party campaign in UP, would be responsible for the loss or victory on Saturday, Azad said, "Elections are not a referendum on individuals. "
The bellwether state of UP sends 31 members, maximum among all states, to the Rajya Sabha and the saffron party has presently only three from there. Four other states -- Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur -- have together only 12 members in the Upper House. The Congress with 59 members is the largest party in the 245-member Rajya Sabha followed by the BJP with 56. However, a defeat will be a big loss of face for Modi who has invested a lot of political capital in these polls, especially in Uttar Pradesh where he addressed close to 24 rallies and often sought votes in his and his government's name.
If the alliance forged by UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Congress vice President Rahul Gandhi, seen as the BJP's main rival, outscores it, then it will embolden opposition ranks unlike any other time since Modi stormed to power in 2014. If BJP's debacle in Bihar gave opposition the belief that the saffron march can be slowed down, its loss in UP will be seen by the Congress and other rival parties as an evidence of public anger with the Modi government and a beginning of its downfall in 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
With inputs from PTI
Published Date: Mar 11, 2017 06:36 pm | Updated Date: Mar 11, 2017 06:40 pm