New Delhi: Counting of votes will take place in five States, where Assembly polls were held, on Saturday amid tight security from 8 a.m. Tens of thousands of central forces are deployed at the counting centres.
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.
The 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.
In Uttar Pradesh, which has a 403 constituencies, 78 counting centres have been set up in 75 districts.
Fifteen counting centres have been established in Uttarakhand, where the strength of the Assembly is 70 .
Votes will be counted at 54 centers in 27 locations in Punjab, which has a 117-member 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 for 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 willl 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 that the BJP lis ikely to lead the table in Uttar Pradesh and Goa. 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.
The exit polls have predicted victory for the BJP in Uttarakhand.
A good show by the BJP, especially in Uttar Pradesh, will be seen as a reaffirmation of Prime Minster Narendra 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.
Mr. 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 distribution of ticket.
BJP win will boost its strength in RS
A BJP win in the State 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.
Senior leader and party’s Uttar Pradesh general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad said, “The SP- Congress alliance will win the elections despite exit poll claims.”
Asked if Mr. Rahul Gandhi, who spearheaded the party campaign in the State, would be responsible for the loss or victory, he said, “Elections are not a referendum on individuals. ”
The bellwether State of Uttar Pradesh sends 31 members, maximum among all States, to the Rajya Sabha and the saffron party has presently only three from there.
Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur have together only 12 members in the Uppar 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 Mr. 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 Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav and Mr. Gandhi, seen as the BJP’s main rival, outscores it, then it will embolden opposition ranks unlike any other time since Mr. Modi stormed to power in 2014.
If the BJP’s debacle in Bihar gave opposition the belief that the saffron march can be slowed down, its loss in Uttar Pradesh 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 before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.