First Phase of Five-State Electoral Battle Kicks Off Today

First Phase of Five-State Electoral Battle Kicks Off Today

New Delhi - The forthcoming round of assembly elections spanning five states is set to commence on Tuesday. Voting will take place in the northeastern state of Mizoram and across 20 constituencies in Chhattisgarh, signifying the outset of a highly significant prelude to the upcoming general elections next summer.

Elections are scheduled for November 17 in Madhya Pradesh, alongside the remaining 70 seats in Chhattisgarh. Rajasthan's electoral phase will unfold on November 25, followed by Telangana on November 30, with results for all five states expected to be announced on December 3. These elections will not only determine the governing bodies of these states, which collectively contribute 83 representatives to the Lok Sabha, but also hold relevance for the national political landscape, influencing the strategy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it approaches the 2024 national elections and impacting seat-sharing negotiations within the opposition INDIA bloc.

Within the 20 constituencies going to the polls in Chhattisgarh, twelve are located in the Maoist-affected Bastar region. To mitigate risks, polling officials, state police personnel, and additional paramilitary staff have been mobilized to sensitive booths since the previous Saturday. The Election Commission of India (ECI) has stipulated that, due to security concerns, polling in 10 constituencies will conclude at 3 pm, with the rest adhering to the customary 5 pm deadline.

Helicopters have been enlisted over the past two days to airlift electronic voting machines, polling personnel, and other equipment to 158 booths across five districts. Furthermore, these elections introduce 126 new polling booths in areas previously inaccessible due to Maoist influence. Drones will be deployed extensively, particularly in the four districts of Dantewada, Bijapur, Sukma, and Narayanpur, to monitor Maoist activity, according to Bastar's inspector general of police, P. Sundar Raj.

In the 2018 elections, the Congress emerged victorious in 17 out of the 20 contested seats during the first phase, ultimately securing 68 out of 90 seats in the assembly, marking a significant triumph. Former Chief Minister and BJP leader Raman Singh is a prominent contender in the first phase, contesting the Rajnandgaon seat. Other notable candidates include the state Congress chief and Member of Parliament Deepak Baij, as well as state ministers Mohammad Akbar and Kawasi Lakhma.

The Congress has replaced six incumbent lawmakers among the 20 contested seats, featuring 223 candidates, 5,304 polling booths, and 4.78 million eligible voters. Senior Congress leaders express confidence in replicating their 2018 success, emphasizing their accomplishments over the past five years and the promises outlined in their manifesto. On the other hand, the BJP anticipates the Congress losing 15 seats in this phase, believing they have a favorable edge in most constituencies, both in terms of candidates and public support.

In Mizoram, a total of 857,063 voters will cast their ballots across 1,276 polling stations, with 174 candidates vying for positions. A substantial deployment of election personnel, state police, and paramilitary forces will be on duty, underscoring expectations of high voter turnout. The state witnessed an 81.31% voter turnout in 2018, slightly higher than the 80.82% recorded in 2013.

The electoral contest in Mizoram involves the ruling Mizo National Front, the Zoram People's Movement (ZPM), the Congress, and the BJP. In 2018, the MNF regained power in Mizoram after a decade, defeating the Congress, securing 26 out of 40 seats with a 37.70% vote share. The Congress secured only five seats and 30% of the votes, while the newly formed ZPM outperformed the Congress with eight seats, and the BJP secured one seat.

The MNF, part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the North East Democratic Alliance (NEDA), has chosen to contest the elections independently. Chief Minister Zoramthanga criticized the Center for its handling of the situation in neighboring Manipur. While the MNF, Congress, and ZPM compete in all 40 seats, the BJP fields candidates in 23. Zoramthanga expressed optimism about winning at least 25 seats, asserting that 21 are needed to form the government.

The opposition is also optimistic about their prospects. "The response we have received from voters gives us confidence in returning to power," stated Congress state chief Lalsawta. ZPM president Lalduhoma added, "Our primary competition is with the MNF, which we believe will secure the second position. The Congress is no longer a dominant force in Mizoram, and the BJP does not pose a significant challenge in our state."

BJP Mizoram president Vanlalmuaka expressed confidence in his party's role in the upcoming government.

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