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HP to go to polls on Nov 9

| | New Delhi
HP to go to polls on Nov 9

The Himachal Pradesh Assembly election will be held on November 9 and the results will be out on December 18, along with that of Gujarat polls, the dates for which will be announced later. The dates for Assembly elections in Gujarat were not announced on Thursday, but Chief Election Commissioner AK Joti said polling in the State will be held before December 18.

The term of the 68-member Himachal Assembly ends on January 7 and that of the 182-member Gujarat Assembly on January 22. In HP, corruption-hit Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh will again be the Congress’ face for the top job, while Gujarat will witness the first Assembly polls in 15 years without Narendra Modi.

“The Gujarat polls have been delayed due to the recent floods and the ongoing rehabilitation work in the villages,” Joti said. On the issue of results of HP elections too being announced on December 18, Joti reasoned, “This is being done to ensure that the voting pattern of one State does not affect the other State.”

The contests for Gujarat and Himachal Assemblies will be interesting test cases to know the pulse of the people, with the 2019 Lok Sabha polls being only about 18 months away. The BJP is confident of wresting Himachal from the Congress, given the fact that the electorate of the State has voted for parties in ‘rotation’ since the 1990s, and also because Singh is facing corruption charges. He is seeking re-election for the seventh time.

The BJP, however, is yet to name its chief ministerial candidate for the hill State, even as names of two-time Chief Minister Prem Kumar Dhumal and Union Health Minister JP Nadda, are doing the rounds.  As against the BJP’s target of decisively ousting Singh, the Congress has been asserting that it will cross the halfway-mark in the Assembly.

In Gujarat, the Prime Minister’s home-turf, the BJP has set an ambitious 150-seat target in the 182-member Assembly. The Hardik Patel-led Patidar protest for reservations for Patels has created a wedge between the BJP and the influential community, which forms about 15 per cent of the population. To offset any loss of votes from the Patel community, the BJP has doggedly cultivated the numerically-strong Other Backward Classes, particularly Kolis, who constitute 20 per cent of Gujarat.

In a State, where Modi has reigned for 13 years as CM, the BJP is “confident” of continuing its rule. The Congress has sought to revive its rural base in Gujarat with Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi making aggressive forays in the State.  

Modi is scheduled to hold a mega rally on October 16 in Gandhinagar to mark the conclusion of the ongoing Gaurav Yatra. Joti said the Gujarat Chief Secretary had written to the EC seeking additional time for polls as the July floods-related relief and rehabilitation work is yet to be completed properly.

“Since roads have been washed out, and the relief works began in September, the State Government asked for more time to enforce the Model Code of Conduct,” he said.

The elections will be held through EVMs with Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail and the height of the voting compartment will be increased from 24 inches to 30 inches, keeping in mind the introduction of paper trail machines. There will be 136 women-managed polling booths in Himachal and each constituency will have two women, Joti said. The poll panel has also increased the size of the VVPAT screen, so voters can easily see who they have voted for.

Himachal will be the second State after Goa with 100 per cent VVPAT coverage. The VVPAT machines will be deployed along with EVMs in all the 7,521 polling stations, including 42 auxiliary polling stations at remote places.

Addressing a Press conference, Joti, who was flanked by Election Commissioners OP Rawat and Sunil Arora, said VVPAT machines from one polling booth in each of the 68 Assembly constituencies will be tallied with EVM results to check the vote count.

Each candidate contesting the poll will have to maintain a separate account of poll expenses, which have been capped at a maximum of Rs 28 lakh for Himachal.

However, the candidate will have to submit the election expenses to the Returning Officer within 30 days after the declaration of results.



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