EC sets wheels in motion for Delhi polls in new year
The wheels have been set in motion for the assembly elections in Delhi, with the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Friday reviewing facilities and giving preparatory directions to state government departments ahead of a formal notification likely soon.
Officials from the state election office and government departments said the elections to the Capital were likely to be announced between January 7 and 12, and conducted within three to four weeks from the date of announcement. The term of the assembly, in which the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won 67 of the 70 seats in 2015, ends on February 22, 2020.
“The final electoral rolls for the elections are to be published on January 6. The custom is that polls are announced only once that is frozen,” said a senior Delhi election office official who asked not to be named. “It is likely to be a single-phase affair,” he added.
An ECI official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “The Delhi elections could be held any day between February 7 and 14. But it will be conducted before February 15 because CBSE [Central Board of Secondary Education] board exams for classes 10 and 12 will begin that day. During elections, schools are used for polling,” he said.
Before Thursday’s meeting, a similar stock-taking meeting was held on December 24, another ECI official said. “The idea is to discuss what needs to be done for smooth elections,” he said.
As per the last draft rolls published in November, Delhi will have 14.5 million voters, who will cast their ballots in at least 13,000 polling stations that will be manned by over 100,000 personnel in the upcoming elections and as many government employees will be on election duty.
A third official said the possibility that the elections would be held by the second week of February also stemmed from the fact that the city is under heightened security cover between January 15 and 30 due to Republic Day celebrations, and the Union Budget is slated to be presented in Parliament on February 1.
Delhi is set for an electoral contest that will see three parties — the ruling AAP, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress — fighting it out.
“We are ready for the elections...Our campaign began weeks after the Lok Sabha results in May,” said Gopal Rai, the APP’s Delhi unit convener.
The Centre’s ruling BJP, which won just three seats in the last elections, said it will soon start a door-to-door campaign. “In the campaign, we will tell the public about the failures of the government and highlight the welfare works done by the central government for the people of Delhi,” said Tarun Chug, a national secretary of the BJP.
The Congress, which failed to win a single seat in 2015, said the party is reaching out to voters through public meetings. Delhi Congress chief Subhash Chopra said, “Our campaign will be focused on the work done by the party in the past and what we intend to do in the future.”
At Thursday’s ECI meeting, attended by Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora, the commission directed the state transport department to arrange 1,500 buses to provide free shuttle service to voters from various localities to polling booths.
Also present at the meeting were election commissioners Ashok Lavasa and Sushil Chandra, and district election officers, deputy commissioners of police, joint commissioners of police and the chief election officer (CEO) of Delhi, among others.
According to a person who was a part of the discussions, the ECI pulled up some state poll officers for not being ready with their respective district election management, monitoring and expenditure plans.
“ECI also asked why there were variations in the list of vulnerable polling booths cited by the police and the district election officers. They were asked to re-asses the areas and come up with a common list of vulnerable stations by the first week of January to prevent any threat. However, the list, including those identified as critical, will have to be regularly reviewed and updated till the polling date,” the senior official said.
He added that this assumes significance because Delhi has been witnessing protests over the past two weeks against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA. The protests have turned violent on at least three occasions so far.
The political temperature is rising in the Capital, with parties getting ready for the high-stakes election. Prime Minister Narendra Modi kicked off the BJP’s campaign at the Ramlila Maidan on Sunday, focusing both on national and local issues.
While Modi said the CAA and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC) do not go against the Muslim citizens of India, he also detailed the work done by the Centre for the welfare of Delhi. He accused the AAP-led state government of stalling development works, stressing that the Centre took over the process to confer ownership rights to four million residents of unauthorised colonies due to inordinate delay by the state government.
On Thursday, addressing a gathering after laying the foundation stone of East Delhi Hub — the country’s first transit-oriented development project, Union home minister Amit Shah accused the opposition of creating confusion over CAA, and spoiling the atmosphere in the national capital by misleading people.
He also exuded confidence about the BJP’s performance in the state elections, stressing that “the lotus will bloom” in Delhi too — a reference to the party’s election symbol. Taking on chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, he said the AAP-led dispensation obstructed Central schemes.
On the same day, the AAP sought to reach out to voters with the “Acche Beete Paanch Saal — Lage Raho Kejriwal” (Five Years Well Spent — Keep Going, Kejriwal) slogan even as the CM answered a volley of questions on his governance in Constitution Club’s Town Hall. “We will clean Delhi, clean lanes and roads of Delhi. We will clean it to the extent that you will be proud to call yourself a Delhiite,” he said.
At the 17th Hindustan Times Leadership Summit (HTLS) on December 7, Kejriwal listed his government’s welfare schemes and said the upcoming elections will be fought on AAP’s performance in the Capital. “When BJP fights elections in other states, it fights on caste and religion. When it comes to Delhi, their people talk about unauthorised colonies, about water. If we hadn’t done all the work that we did, they would have turned the discourse into a Hindu vs Muslim issue,” he said.
In Delhi, election officers, for the first time, may have to report at the polling stations the night before election day, instead of by 4am, to set up the electronic voting machines (EVMs).
The polling team at each booth comprises one presiding officer and five polling officers. The EVMs are brought to the station by sector officers who are in-charge of 10-12 polling booths.
Delhi’s chief electoral officer Ranbir Singh said Delhi will be the first state in which a “booth app” shall be used in every polling station. “This latest technological innovation will make the poll process fast through use of QR code reading of voter slips. It will help in the faster identification of electors,” he said.
Singh said the mobile application will also give the status of how many voters are in a queue, so the people can plan their visits to the polling station accordingly. The app will give voter turnout on in real time.
Elderly people over 80 years and people with disabilities, for the first time in India, will be allowed to cast their votes through postal ballots, according to Singh.
Singh made a presentation on the details of electoral rolls, the availability of officials, training of officials and other activities, and about special measures the Delhi EC will take. Delhi Police special commissioner Praveer Ranjan, too, made a presentation about the general law and order situation in the capital.
“The AAP has an edge in the upcoming polls not just because people seem to be happy with its governance model, which revolves around health, education, water, power, social welfare and development, but also because they are clear about the difference in voting for a PM and voting for a CM. I see the Delhi polls completely as a bi-party contest between the AAP and the BJP. The Congress may see an increase in its vote share, but it is unlikely to cause much damage to others,” said Sanjay Kumar, director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).