Single-phase polling on in TN, Kerala, Puducherry; 3rd phase in WB, Assam

The polls will be held under COVID protocol as the number of cases across the country has risen sharply in  recent days.

Though the Election Commission followed Covid safety protocols in the polling booths, political parties did not wear masks nor observed social distancing norms at rallies and marches. Pic: PTI

Polling for assembly elections began at 7 am on Tuesday (April 6) in Tamil Nadu (234 seats), Kerala (140 seats), Puducherry (30 seats), West Bengal (third phase, 31 seats) and Assam (final phase, 40 seats) amid heavy security and in adherence to the COVID protocol.

In Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK is seeking a third term, while the Stalin-led DMK is hoping to return to power after a decade in the opposition. Actors Rajinikanth and Ajith Kumar were among the early voters in Chennai.

In Kerala, Metroman E Sreedharan, the BJP candidate from Palakkad, was among the early voters. “I have cast my vote, I have good expectations,” he told reporters after exercising his franchise at a polling booth in Ponnani.

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Long queues were seen in several polling stations much before the polling began. Kerala witnessed a fierce campaign in the run up to the polls by the ruling CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), the Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) and the BJP-led NDA. 

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, seven of his cabinet colleagues, Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala and senior Congress leader Oommen Chandy are among the 957 candidates in fray in the state. Voting is underway at 40,771 polling stations in the state, which has 2. 74 crore eligible voters. 

In West Bengal, voting is underway in 16 seats in South 24 Parganas district (part II), seven in Howrah (part I) and eight in Hooghly (part I) in the third phase of polling. Over 78.5 lakh voters are eligible to exercise their franchise to decide the fate of 205 candidates, including BJP leader Swapan Dasgupta, state minister Ashima Patra and CPI(M) leader Kanti Ganguly. 

The Election Commission has imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC in all the constituencies, declaring them as sensitive. Tight security arrangements have been made to ensure peaceful voting, with 618 companies of central forces being deployed to guard 10,871 polling stations. State police forces have also be deputed at strategic locations to aid the central forces. The elections for the 294 assembly seats in West Bengal are being held in eight phases.

Assam is voting in the third and final phase covering 40 seats to decide the fate of 337 candidates, including minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, his five cabinet colleagues and state BJP president Ranjeet Kumar Dass. 

The BJP-led NDA and the Congress-headed Grand Alliance are involved in a direct fight in 20 constituencies, while there is a triangular fight, including friendly contests, in the remaining seats with the Assam Jatiya Parishad (AJP) being considered as the third force. The newly floated AJP is contesting in 22 seats, while there are 126 independents in the fray. 

The polls will be held under COVID protocol as the number of cases across the country has risen sharply in  recent days.

Tamil Nadu: Battle lines are clearly drawn for Tamil Nadu’s 234-member Assembly polls, with the two Dravidian combines — the ruling AIADMK in alliance with the BJP, the PMK and other local outfits and the opposition DMK with a dozen allies, including the Congress — locking horns. The actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM), which scored a nil in the 2016 polls, is the third force challenging the two Dravidian groups. TTV Dhinakaran’s Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) is also in the fray in alliance with local groups.

Also read: How one party in Tamil Nadu used humour, sarcasm to troll its opponents

This will be the first assembly election in Tamil Nadu after the death of two political stalwarts — AIADMK’s J Jayalalithaa and DMK’s M Karunanidhi. Jayalalithaa had broken a 32-year-old pattern of the state politics when she took her party to a consecutive victory in the 2016 polls. The AIADMK’s victory denied Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) M Karunanidhi a chance to become a CM, yet again, at the age of 92.

There seems to be no major anti-incumbency in the state. However, the opposition DMK made government’s handling of some controversies a poll agenda. It attacked the ruling party on issues such as NEET by raking up the death by suicide of a girl named Anitha, who had fought a legal battle against the exam; the Pollachi sexual assault case; and the lose of state’s rights on tax revenue sharing, etc.

The AIADMK, on the other hand, sought votes on the basis of the 7.5 percent reservation in medical seats for government school students clearing NEET, the 10.5 per cent reservation for Vanniyars and the change of name of Pallars as Devendrakula Vellalars. In the last couple of days of the campaigning, the AIADMK used DMK leader A Raja’s comment on Edappadi K Palaniswami’s birth as a counter to the DMK’s use of the Pollachi case.
After his comment, Raja was stopped by the election commission from campaigning for 48 hours and he was removed from the list of star campaigners of the DMK. During the last day of campaigning, advertisements by the AIADMK in major newspapers created a furore. The AIADMK’s video campaign, ‘Vetri Nadai Podum Thamizhagam’, become popular. In between the campaigning by the parties, there were IT raids in the houses of Opposition leaders, but nothing substantial was found in these raids.

There are over 6.28 crore eligible voters in Tamil Nadu— 3.18 crore women, 3.08 men and over 7,200 transgenders who will decide the fate the 3,998 candidates contesting the elections.

The state has, on an average, the largest number of candidates per seat. According to the Election Commission, the average number of candidates for 234 seats is 17, which is larger than in the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, which had 12, and in Bihar (15).

Parties have tried to woo the women voters, who outnumber men voters in the state. The Shozhinganallur Assembly seat in Chengalpattu district has the highest number of voters at 6,94,845 , while Chennai’s Harbour Assembly constituency has the lowest — 1,76,272. There are as many as 8,97,694 new voters in the age group of 18-19 years.

A pre-poll survey done by Puthiya Thalaimurai news channel has predicted a victory for the opposition. The Congress-DMK alliance under MK Stalin may return to power after 10 years by winning 151-158 seats, while the NDA will get just 65, it said. The MNM of Kamal Haasan may win about five seats, while the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) of TTV Dhinakaran may get three.

Also read: TN polls: Puthiya Thalaimurai survey predicts DMK win with 151-158 seats

Edappadi (CM Palaniswami), Kolathur (DMK boss Stalin), Bodinayakanur (AIADMK’s Paneerselvam), Chepauk-Triplicane (Udhayanidhi Stalin), Coimbatore South (Kamal Haasan) and Thousand Lights (Khushboo Sundar of BJP) are some of the key constituencies.

Kerala: The contest is largely between the Left-led LDF and the Congress-headed UDF. The BJP is trying its luck under the leadership of K Surendran and is buoyed by the entry of ‘Metro man’ E Sreedharan, who is contesting the polls from Palakkad. In 2016, the LDF had won 97 seats, while the Congress had bagged 47; the BJP had just one seat in the 140-member assembly.

Media reports indicate that in a state where the LDF and the UDF have taken turns to rule, things could be different this time: the Pinarayi Vijayan led-LDF may return to power.

The LDF based its campaign on development and social welfare. The opposition — both the UDF and the NDA — tried to rake up the Sabarimala controversy. The CAA and the 10 per cent reservation brought in by the state government for the economically weaker sections were the other major campaign issues.

The UDF was hoping for a sweep like the one it had registered in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. However, the local body elections held in October 2020 indicated that the LDF is still holding its ground, as it was able to overcome ant-incumbency.

The BJP, which has been trying to make inroads in Kerala by riding the Sabarimala controversy, has listed 40 constituencies as A+ — seats in which it expects to put a strong show. 

Based on the request of the state Chief Electoral Officer, Teeka Ram Meena, the Election Commission of India banned the customary finale marked by massive participation of crowd and celebration on Sunday ahead of the Assembly polls.

A total of 2.67 crore voters figure in the final electoral roll published by the Election Commission, ahead of the Assembly election. These include 1.37 crore female voters, 1.29 crore male voters and 221 transgender electors.

Also read: Five ways to understand which way the Kerala elections will go

Some of the key constituencies in the state include: Dharmadam (CM Pinarayi Vijayan), Manjeshwaram (K Surendran), Puthuppally (Oommen Chandy), Palakkad (E Sreedharan) and Neemom (BJP’s K Rajasekharan) and Haripad (Ramesh Chennithala).

Puducherry: The Union Territory has been under the presidential rule since the Congress lost power after five MLAs, including two ministers, quit in February. The main contenders for the 30-member Assembly are the Secular Democratic Alliance and the NDA.

The NDA is led by the AINRC party, which held the majority until the 2016 elections that saw the Congress-led SDA alliance emerge victorious. The AINRC will be contesting 16 seats and their allies, the BJP and he AIADMK, will be contesting nine and five constituencies, respectively. The Congress and the DMK, the two biggest parties in the SDA, will contest 14 and 13 constituencies, respectively. Also in the fray is Kamal Hassan’s MNM.

The targeted campaigning by the BJP using the Aadhaar details of voters became a major issue in the Union Territory during the campaigning. It was alleged that the BJP was using the Aadhaar data to target voters even at the booth level.
The defection of leaders from the Congress to the BJP and NR Congress and the controversy over nominated MLAs were also key talking points during the campaigning.
The constant bickering between the Centre-backed Lieutenant Governor Kiran Bedi and Congress chief minister V Narayanasamy has again given rise to the demand of statehood for the Union Territory. Narayanasamy alleged that the Lieutenant Governor hampered governance.

There are 4,72,650 male voters in the UT, 5,31,431 female voters and 116 third-gender voters. In all, there are 10,04,197 electors eligible to vote. The Villianur, Ozhukarai and Ariyankuppam constituencies have the most voters, while Orleanpet, Raj Bhavan and Uppalam have the least.

The key constituencies are: Yanam (AINRC’s N Rangasamy), Karaikal-North (state Congress chief AV Subramanian), Uppalam (A Anbalagan), Kamaraj Nagar (MOHF Shah Jahan) and Tirunallar (R Kamalakannan).

West Bengal: As many as 31 constituencies will go for voting in the third phase of polling in the state. Senior BJP leader Swapan Dasgupta, TMC minister Ashima Patra and former CPI-M minister Kanti Ganguly are among 205 candidates contesting the polls.

Elections will be held in parts of rural Howrah, the Sunderban region, the Diamond Harbour and Baruipur belts in the South 24 Parganas, and parts of the Hooghly district.

As many as 53 candidates have declared criminal cases against themselves. This means 26 percent of candidates have been charged with criminal cases. Among the 205 candidates, 33 are crorepati, which means they have declared assets valued at more than Rs 1 crore. Of these, 17 candidates are from TMC, eight from BJP and one each from Congress, All India Forward Bloc and CPI-M.

About 78 lakh people will vote across 10,871 booths. The Trinamool Congress and the BJP have fielded candidates in all 31 seats. Under the Samyukt Morcha, the CPI-M has fielded candidates for 13 seats, the All India Forward Bloc has two candidates, the Revolutionary Socialist Party one and the Congress nominees are contesting in seven seats. In the remaining eight seats, the Indian Secular Front has fielded its candidates mainly in the minority-dominated areas of South 24 Parganas.

Also read: The pan India climax to BJP’s Bengal story

Assam: There are 79,19,641 voters, of which 40,11,539 males, 39,07,963 females and 139 transgenders for the final third phase of polling for the 126-member Assembly. As many as 40 constituencies are going to the polls. There are 337 candidates are in the fray, including 25 women. The seats are spread across 12 districts including three in the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR). The main contest is between the ruling BJP-led alliance and the Mahajot combine led by the Congress.

Six seats have been reserved for STs and two for SCs. The constituency having the highest number of electors in Phase-3 is Dispur with 607 polling booths having 4,11,636 electors. The constituency having the lowest number of electors in Phase-III is Chapaguri in Baksa with 236 polling stations having 1,59,257 voters.

Also read: Repoll in Assam booth after EVMs found in BJP candidate’s car

Key constituencies are: Jalukbari (BJP’s Himanta Biswa Sarma), Patacharkuchi (state BJP chief Ranjeet Kumar Das), Bongaigaon (AGP’s Phanibhushan Choudhury), Sarukhetri (singer Kalpana Patowary from AGP) and Dharampur (BJP’s Chandra Mohan Patowary).

The fate of 20 sitting MLAs, including eight from the Congress, five from the BJP, three each from the AIUDF and BPF and one from AGP, will be decided in the final phase.

 

 

 

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