The Election Commission will announce dates for Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Manipur, and Uttarakhand at 3:30 pm, a statement from the top polling body has said.
Of the five states voting, the BJP rules four and the Congress is in power in Punjab.
The election in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh will be keenly followed, with the Congress fighting to retain control of one of the few states it rules outright.
The UP election is viewed as critical for the BJP, which is under pressure there following the Yogi Adityanath government’s handling of the Covid pandemic and the emergence of Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav as a serious challenger.
The UP election is also an indicator of how the BJP might perform in the 2024 general election. The state’s Assembly has 403 seats, and the state also sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha – the most of any state.
Among the other states voting in February and March is Goa, where the BJP is facing anti-incumbency and challenges from the Aam Aadmi Party and the Trinamool Congress, in addition to the Congress.
In the 2017 Goa election it was the Congress that actually emerged as the single-largest party after winning 17 of 40 seats, but the BJP stole a march by allying with independents and regional parties to boost its tally of 13 seats.
The Congress and the AAP will challenge the BJP in Uttarakhand too, where the ruling party last year was forced to change chief ministers twice in less than six months.
Tirath Singh Rawat replaced Trivendra Singh Rawat in March and, in July, he was dropped for Pushkar Singh Dhami after infighting threatened Tirath Rawat’s chances of winning a legislative council seat.
In Manipur (as in Goa), the Congress won 28 seats in the 60-member Assembly, but the BJP formed the government after support from three regional parties.
Elections in all five states will be held amid a massive surge in Covid cases across the country fuelled in part by the Omicron variant – this morning the Union Health Ministry reported over 1.41 lakh new infections in the previous 24 hours, an increase of 21 per cent from the day before.
UP’s Allahabad High Court last month urged the Election Commission and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to postpone polls. The top poll body, however, has had meetings with the Union Health Ministry and has decided to go ahead with elections.
Some safety measures – an extra hour of voting and more polling booths – have been announced, but the biggest concern – thousands attending election rallies – was left unanswered, with Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra saying that was the responsibility of the state government till the Model Code of Conduct kicks in, which it will do once dates are announced.