Delhi moves to polls with Shaheen Bagh, Modi, Kejriwal, vitriol in mind

Poll officials arrive at a polling station in Shaheen Bagh on the eve of Delhi Assembly elections. Photo: PTI

Inflammatory speeches and marathon meetings wrapped up a highly energised campaign season for the main contenders — AAP, BJP and Congress — and the national capital is finally set to vote on Saturday (February 8). The results of the assembly elections is scheduled to be declared on February 11.

Over 1.47 crore voters are eligible to exercise their franchise in the electoral battle for Delhi, which is largely being seen as a triangular contest among the ruling AAP, a spirited Congress and the opposition BJP which campaigned very aggressively ahead of the election. Polling will begin at 8 am and will end at 6 pm on Saturday.

The election comes at a time when major protests against the Centre’s new citizenship law have marred the streets across the country with Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh being its epicentre. In view of the protests at Shaheen Bagh and other places, security arrangements have been tightened with the police keeping extra vigil in sensitive polling areas.

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The Delhi Chief Electoral Officer (CEO)’s office has put all five polling stations in Shaheen Bagh under the ‘critical’ category, and confidence-building measures are continuously being undertaken to reassure voters, officials said. CEO Ranbir Singh said the area was under “tight vigil” and “there is no obstruction” in areas where poll activities will be conducted, so voters will face no problems.

Singh said 1,47,86,382 people are eligible to vote in the Delhi polls, and 2,32,815 are in the age group of 18-19. Voters in various categories include 81,05,236 males, 66,80,277 females, 11,608 service voters, 869 third gender voters, and 2,04,830 senior citizens (aged 80 and above) voters, officials said.

The bitterly fought high-octane campaign that lasted for over three weeks ended at 6 pm on Thursday, just 38 hours before the start of voting for the high-stakes Delhi polls. There are 672 candidates in the fray for 70 assembly seats. Tight security arrangements have been made across the national capital and police force and paramilitary personnel have been deployed.

Security deployment

Delhi police have made adequate arrangements and deployed around 40,000 security personnel, 19,000 home guards and 190 companies of Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) to ensure smooth conduct of the assembly elections in the national capital on Saturday, officials said.

Around 19,000 Home guards from states like Uttarakhand, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh will also assist the local police in providing security at polling booths, the officials said. Static surveillance teams and flying squads have been deployed and special checking drives are being conducted in vulnerable areas to check any attempt to influence voters, police said.

There are 13,750 polling booths, besides one auxiliary booth, located at 2,689 locations across Delhi. “As far as critical polling stations are concerned, there are 516 locations and 3,704 booths in that category,” Singh said. Besides police security, polling stations falling in the “critical category” get paramilitary cover. Activities will be monitored through webcasting, he said.

Police and election machinery are on “extra vigil” and assessing the situation all the time across the national capital, he added. Security personnel kept guard at strong rooms storing EVMs. Election staff carried EVMs and other polling material to booths under tight supervision in all constituencies.

Shaheen Bagh, which falls in the Okhla assembly constituency, has become the epicentre of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the agitation has been thrust by political parties into a poll issue. Hundreds of people have been protesting since December 15 at Shaheen Bagh against the CAA and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Poll authorities had met protesters recently and encouraged them to vote on the polling day.

A tech-driven election

“The 2020 Delhi polls will be tech-driven with greater use of technology elements like mobile apps, QR codes, social media interface, seeking to enhance the experience of all categories of voters, before polling or on the voting day. And we are trying to make the best use of it,” the chief electoral officer said.

Electors can carry smartphones at polling stations in 11 assembly constituencies for accessing QR codes from the voters’ helpline app in case they have not brought the voters’ slip to the booth. Delhi has 70 Assembly constituencies and one constituency in each of the 11 districts will have this tech-driven facility.

The ruling Aam Aadmi Party is going into the Delhi election with the hope to repeat its stellar performance in the last assembly polls, while the BJP, which bagged all seven seats here in the Lok Sabha election, will be aiming at expanding its vote share in the national capital.

In the 2015 assembly elections, the AAP had bagged 54.3% votes while the BJP got a vote share of 32%. The Congress had managed to bag just 9.6% votes. The AAP will fight the polls on a depleted strength of 60 MLAs as it had to concede one seat to the BJP in the subsequent bypoll, while six of the lawmakers were disqualified over joining other parties.

(With inputs from agencies)

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