Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa will pick new assemblies between February 4 and March 8 in the biggest popularity test since the Lok Sabha polls of 2014.The results from all the states will be known on March 11, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi said on Wednesday while unveiling a slew of new election-related rules.The exercise will involve 160 million voters and a total of 690 assembly seats, 403 of them in Uttar Pradesh alone.Zaidi said the Model Code of Conduct would come into effect from now and would be applicable to all candidates, political parties, concerned state governments as well as the central government in as much as its decisions relate to the five states.Almost all the main parties in the fray - the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) - welcomed the much awaited election schedule.
This will also be the first electoral contest since the November 8 demonetisation, which has triggered an unprecedented cash crunch, leading in turn to an opposition onslaught on the Narendra Modi government.While polling in Goa, the smallest of the five states, and Punjab will take place on February 4, Uttarakhand will vote on February 15 and Manipur in two phases on March 4 and 8.Uttar Pradesh, the country's most populous state, will go to the polls in seven phases: February 11 (73 seats), 15 (67 seats), 19 (69 seats), 23 (53 seats) and 27 (52 seats) and March 4 (49 seats) and 8 (40 seats).Goa has 40 seats, Punjab 117, Manipur 60 and Uttarakhand has 70 seats.All eyes will be on Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP is determined to take power by ousting the ruling Samajwadi Party -- now in the throes of a huge crisis -- and beating back a strong challenge from the BSP.
While the BJP rules Goa, it is a junior ally to the Shiromani Akali Dal-led government in Punjab. The Congress governs Uttarakhand and Manipur.The AAP, the country's youngest political outfit and which rules Delhi, will contest for the first time in Punjab and Goa."We are committed to conduct the elections in a free and fair manner," Zaidi said. The Election Commission would also check the "misuse of black money and liquor".For the first time, there will be separate polling stations for women and photographs of the candidates will be displayed on the electronic voting machines.The poll panel would also insist on a certificate from candidates to show they owe no arrears to any government department vis-a-vis utilities bills and rent on official accommodation.BJP spokesperson Siddhartha Nath Singh said: "Development will remain our plank but the opposition would like to attack demonetisation policy. Per se I think this will be very good for us."Congress spokesman Manish Tewari said the issues in each states will be different and "it is not going to be a single issue on which the elections will be fought".Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the AAP was confident of taking power in both Goa and Punjab.