Thursday, March 5, 2009

General Elections 2009

The exercise for the democracy has begun. The Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami and Election Commissioners Naveen Chawla and S Y Quraishi have announced the much-awaited dates for holding elections to the 15th Lok Sabha. The poll schedule was announced a day after President Pratibha Patil rejected Gopalaswami’s controversial suggestion to sack Election Commissioner Naveen Chawla from the poll panel on grounds that he was “biased” towards the Congress. The new Lok Sabha would be constituted by June 2. The general elections would be conducted in five phases — between April 16 and May 13 — while the counting would be done on May 16. The Model Code of Conduct, too, was enforced with immediate effect.
With the announcement of the 15th general elections curtains go up on the biggest carnival of democracy in the world. As many as 124 Lok Sabha constituencies would go to the polls on April 16 in the first phase, followed by 141 on April 23, 107 on April 30, 85 on May 7 and finally 86 on May 13. Significantly, this would be the first general elections after the delimitation of the parliamentary constituencies.
Moreover, most of the constituencies in north India — Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, western parts of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand — would go to polls in the fourth or the fifth phase. In Punjab, polling would be held in two phases while in Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh it would spread across five phases.
Besides, this time there would be 4.3 crore more voters than 2004. At 71 crore, the strength of the Indian electorate is more than the combined population of Russia and the US.
More than 40 lakh civil officials and 21 lakh security personnel would be deployed across some 8.28 lakh polling stations, an increase of 20 per cent over 2004 when 6.87 lakh polling stations were set up. As many as 12,000 of the new polling stations have been set up in villages having less than 300 electors. The commission has also undertaken exercise of vulnerability mapping to identify areas where voters could face threat. A total of 13.68 lakh Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) would be used.
Among other States, Bihar would have four rounds of polling. Maharashtra and West Bengal would undergo polling over three phases. Apart from Punjab, seven more states, including Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur and Orissa, would witness voting in two rounds. All other States and Union Territories (UTs) would go to the polls in one go.
Two-Phase Polls in Punjab
It is perhaps security concerns that has made the Election Commission (EC) order two-phase polls in Punjab with the Malwa belt, Bathinda, Sangrur and Patiala, besides Ferozepur scheduled to go for simultaneous voting with all 10 constituencies in Haryana, seven in Delhi and Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir in the region on May 7, the penultimate phase.
The remaining nine constituencies in Punjab, all four in Himachal Pradesh, lone constituency in Chandigarh and two in J&K, Baramulla and Ladakh, will go to polls in the fifth and last phase of the elections to the 15th Lok Sabha.
AP Assembly Elections
The Assembly polls in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Sikkim will be held simultaneously with the Lok Sabha elections in these three States. The elections to the different Assembly constituencies in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa would follow the same schedule as for the corresponding Lok Sabha constituencies of which these are the relevant Assembly segments.
For elections to the Sikkim Assembly, the same schedule as for the corresponding Lok Sabha constituency would be followed up to the date of counting and the date before which the election shall be completed is May 23.
Elections in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa are scheduled to be held in two phases on April 16 and 22. In Sikkim, it will be held in one phase on April 30. The terms of the Assemblies in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Sikkim are scheduled to end on May 30, June 29 and May 23, respectively.
Different Scenario
All parties are now hastening to get their act together. It is open season for dumping partners, building alliances, striking deals and, generally, assembling winnable assets for entering the general elections. As yesterday’s rivals turn today’s allies, friends fall by the wayside and scruples go for a toss, every party will be seeking to maximise the situation in its own favour.
The battle will be different this time. As many as 499 of the 543 consti-tuencies will be different because of the latest round of delimitation. Check out the contours of your constituency — some parts of it might have disappeared and new parts added. The New Delhi and South Mumbai seats, for instance, are nothing like they used to be.
This will be first election since the first in 1952 in which a Dalit — Mayawati — will make a strong bid for the Delhi gaddi. And that too on the basis of her caste identity. For Jagjivan Ram, the last Dalit to have been projected as candidate for the top job in 1977, his caste was more of a handicap than a political plus. This is also the first election that you will have two declared prime ministerial candidates, Dr. Manmohan Singh and senior BJP leader L K Advani. And that is not counting many more with known aspirations but who have not made their claims public as yet.
At the level of leadership too, a generational shift is evident. Several key players of 2004 will be missing this time. VP Singh, Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Chandra Shekhar are no more, while Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Jyoti Basu will be staying away from the action on account of old age.This is the first election that will take into account India’s massive urbanisation over the last three decades.
In 2004, Lok Sabha constituencies were based on the population spread as per the 1971 census; this time, it will be based on the census of 2001. Between 1971 and 2001, urban population has nearly doubled and the number of towns has gone up from 2,590 to 5,161. In 1971 there were 22 people in cities for every 100 in the countryside; in 2001 there were 38. Voters of urban India will have a higher say compared to 2004 and will be wooed by parties perhaps for the first time.
Political Alliances
The Congress has set the agenda by shunning a national alliance, preferring instead to stitch up allies at the regional level. This has not gone down well with Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar. The Maratha leader has issued a veiled threat that unless the Congress looks at national alliances now, he may have to look elsewhere.
The BJP has not only lost a number of allies who constituted the NDA when Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, but is hobbled by factionalism and personality clashes within. The JD-U and the BJD may be with the BJP but are likely to play hardball when it comes to seat sharing in Bihar and Orissa.
The fact that the BJP has to make much of tying up with an outfit like the RLD led by Ajit Singh shows that it is bereft of more powerful partners.
The announcement of the Third Front seems to have been timed for maximum impact. And, there is no denying that close on the heels of the Election Commission’s announcement, the formation of the Front under the leadership of former Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda poses a challenge to both the Congress and the BJP.
With the fortunes of the Left Front on the decline in West Bengal, the Congress and the Trinamool Congress are making common cause to prevent division of the anti-CPM vote. Of course, uniting against the Left Front and agreeing on seat shares are two different things.

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