Political parties were bracing for the assembly election results on Thursday in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and politically volatile Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur, sending out feelers for possible post-poll tie-ups.
On the eve of the counting of votes, the Election Commission announced the removal of three officials, including the nodal officer for EVMs in Varanasi, after a massive controversy erupted over Samajwadi Party’s allegation that electronic voting machines were being shifted in an unauthorised manner.
The poll panel also deputed Delhi’s Chief Electoral Officer as a special officer in Meerut and the Bihar CEO in Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary seat, to supervise the counting of votes.
It is a high-stakes election in Uttar Pradesh for the BJP and the Modi government as the state sends the highest number of 80 MPs to Lok Sabha and the party’s performance is expected to have a bearing on the next general election slated for 2024.
Several exit polls have forecast a clear majority for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and for the Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab, while predicting a hung assembly in Goa and a tight race between the BJP and the Congress in Uttarakhand. Except for Punjab, all other states were under the BJP.
As the post-poll scenario could throw up surprises due to multi-cornered contests, the parties have dispatched senior leaders to the states and were also wooing other parties to ensure that they get the better of their rival claimant in case outside support is needed to form a government.
The Congress has sent Karnataka Congress chief D K Sivakumar as special observer to Goa and party general secretary Mukul Wasnik and Chhattisgarh Health Minister T S Singh Deo besides Vincent Pala to Manipur.
The party had lost the race for government formation in the two states in 2017 despite emerging as the single largest party.
Goa Congress chief Girish Chodankar told reporters that AAP leaders were “already in talks with Congress leaders” and claimed that the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party (MGP) too will support his party.
The Congress has shifted all the candidates in the coastal state to a luxury resort in Bambolim village near Panaji ahead of the counting of votes.
Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant was in the national capital on Tuesday to discuss the evolving situation in his state with BJP leadership.
More than 50,000 officials have been deployed for the counting of votes at nearly 1,200 halls in the five states and COVID-9 guidelines will be followed during the exercise that will begin at 8 AM amid tight security, according to officials.
Uttar Pradesh, which has a maximum of 403 assembly constituencies, will have more than 750 counting halls, followed by Punjab over 200.
Over 650 counting observers have been deployed in the five states to monitor the process.
Video and static cameras have been installed at all the counting centres in UP, an official said in Lucknow.
A total of 250 companies of CAPFs (Central Armed Police Forces) have been provided to all the districts and commissionerates of Uttar Pradesh on March 10, the police said. According to officials, a CAPF company usually has around 70-80 personnel.
If the BJP gets a majority in the 403-member Assembly, it would be the first party to get a consecutive second term in over three decades.
”At the UP BJP office, there are no special preparations, but there is enthusiasm among the party workers,” UP BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi told PTI.
On Tuesday, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav had alleged that EVMS were being “stolen” in a truck in Varanasi but the Election Commission had said the machines were for training officials on counting duty.
In Uttarakhand, BJP general secretary and strategist Kailash Vijayvargiya held meetings with former CM Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and other leaders.
Mr Vijayvargiya had earlier been active in state politics at the time of the rebellion by Congress MLAs against the then chief minister Harish Rawat, which had led to the imposition of President’s rule in the state.
The Congress camp is also keeping a close watch on the situation with central party observer Dipendra Hooda, party in-charge for Uttarakhand Devendra Yadav, poll campaign head Harish Rawat and PCC president Ganesh Godiya holding meetings.
While many exit polls have given either the BJP or Congress a majority in the 70-member Assembly, several of them have predicted a close fight between the two major players or a hung assembly – a scenario in which the role of independents and regional outfits like the AAP, SP, BSP and UKD will become significant in government formation.
The BJP and Congress are locked in straight contests on 40 to 45 seats, while the regional outfits make the fight triangular on 25-30 seats.
The major parties are also keeping an eye on rebels who entered the fray as independents against their official nominees.
Thirteen rebels from the BJP and six from the Congress contested this time.
Congress general secretary Ajay Maken and spokesperson Pawan Khera have been sent to Punjab, where it is betting on Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi to retain power after the rebellion by veteran leader Amarinder Singh.
Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu on Wednesday said the first meeting of the Congress legislative party will be held on Thursday itself after the results of the Punjab Assembly polls are declared.
The party is in power on its own in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and is part of the ruling coalition in Maharashtra and Jharkhand.
Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP is hoping to script history by coming to power in Punjab also after ruling in Delhi for seven years.
A total of 1,304 candidates, including 93 women and two transgenders, are in the fray in the 117 seats.
Though various exit polls predicted that the Congress would not be able to form the government for the second time in a row, Punjab Congress leaders have insisted that their party would secure victory.
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chief Sukhbir Badal had claimed that his party, which fought elections in alliance with the Bahujan Samaj Party, would win over 80 seats.
The BJP has said that it will make impressive gains while former chief minister Amarinder Singh has said that this party, the Punjab Lok Congress, and the BJP have done well in the elections.
With exit polls predicting a BJP win in Manipur, the mood is upbeat in the party’s state office in the heart of Imphal with workers busy cleaning premises and erecting fresh party flags on the boundary wall.
The party has contested in all 60 seats.
However, former chief minister and Congress leader Okram Ibobi Singh has also exuded confidence that his party would come back to power.
To prevent a repeat of 2017, when the Congress was the single-largest party with 28 seats but could not form the government, Singh said the party MLAs would this time take “precautionary measures like staying together at a place”.
The Congress has already announced a pre-poll alliance with CPI, CPM, Forward Bloc, RSP and JD(S).