Election Commission’s poll schedule raises eyebrows, likely to help a Modi blitzkrieg

Most observers agree that the poll schedule announced on Sunday appeared tailor-made for BJP’s virtually solitary crowd puller and vote catcher to barnstorm the key states

Election Commission’s poll schedule raises eyebrows, likely to help a Modi blitzkrieg

Uttam Sengupta

By April 23rd, all of the South, North East, Maharashtra and Gujarat would finish voting. After April 23rd, it's only North India that will have polling till May 19. This is also the period that will coincide with the holy month of Ramazan. Did the Election Commission factor it? And will it ensure lower turnout of the minority community at booths?

Whoever may win the election in 2019, the Election Commission appears to have already lost it. The announcement of the election dates have always been finalised in consultation with the Government of the day. And with the window available for polling known in advance, the last cabinet of the Modi Government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inauguration spree and the Government’s advertisement blitz during the last few days should not have come as a surprise.

But then none of the previous Prime Ministers were 24x7 on poll mode unlike Mr Modi. None of them visited 37 cities in 40 days before the poll announcement and announced or inaugurated 157 projects. And that is why it seems the poll schedule announced on Sunday is tailor-made for him to campaign as extensively as he did in 2014.

Even as the Chief Election Commissioner Mr Sunil Arora was addressing on Sunday what was possibly the longest press conference addressed in the Commission, journalists were tweeting that it was rather confusing.Some tweeted why they were surprised.

BJP even after five years in power is heavily dependent on Narendra Modi’s ability to sway the electorate. And the gaps in the polling schedule in key states, it appears at first glance, are designed to enable Narendra Modi to address 150-200 more rallies across the country in the next two months.

All the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradeshwill see polling across all the seven phases. Only eight constituencies in UP would have polling in the first phase and eight more in the second. As many as 27 constituencies in the state will have polling in the last two phases. There are no explanations why this was necessary, why polling in UP cannot be completed in four or five phases , why seven phases were thought to be necessary.

Earlier elections saw states and regions clubbed together for polling in different phases. The reasons were mostly logistical, about the need to arrange for security and move the personnel from one state or region to another. But the manner in which the constituencies in different states have been divided this time raise doubts that some weird algorithm is at work.

1. The CEC curiously said that polling in Odisha will take place in four phases because the EC decided to conduct polling in all the extremist affected constituencies in one go. But had that been the case, why is polling in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, next to Odisha and having Naxal affected areas of their own, getting over in a single phase? In 2014, Odisha too had polling in a single phase. How much violence was reported from the state then to make EC go for a four-phase polling this time? Or is there, as Yogendra Yadav wondered, a political reason for it?

2. Why is polling for 39 Lok Sabha seats in Tamil Nadu being conducted in one phase but for 28 seats in Karnataka in two phases?

3. How is it that the EC can conduct polling for 20 seats in Kerala and 17 seats in Maharashtra on a single day but in West Bengal it is conducting polling for just two seats in the first phase, for three seats in the second phase and five seats in the third phase?

4. Last time in 2014 the two adjoining hill states Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh went for polling on the same day. This time Uttarakhand will have polling on April 11 but HP on May 19. What could possibly be the compulsion?

5. The last three phases are likely to coincide with the holy month of Ramzan. And this is when most of the northern states and constituencies in the Hindi belt are going to have polling. Did the EC factor this in?

Even Yogendra Yadav posed the following questions:

Well, one just hopes that the Election Commission thought through the consequences and took into account all possible factors before deciding the schedule and has answers to the questions posed by Yadav.

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