The clock will begin ticking for another set of high-stake elections with the Election Commission of India expected to begin discussions next month with the electoral machinery across the five poll-bound states, ET has learnt.

A key concern for the EC this time will be minimising physical rallies due to the unpredictability of the pandemic. ET gathers that the poll panel is considering strict regulation of physical rallies, crowd management and building in accountability to ensure Covid compliant behaviour. It is considering expanding the postal ballot facility to more people, provided political parties agree with this mode, to minimise crowds on voting day.

The poll panel is mandated to hold elections in time to ensure a new assembly is in place in Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Manipur, Uttarakhand and Punjab by March end.

The EC plans to hold discussions with the poll machinery across states as well as political parties ahead of the next round of polls, to ensure social distancing and masking norms are followed as it drew considerable flak in the last round of elections for its alleged failure to ensure crowd management in election rallies. The High Courts of Madras and Calcutta made some strong observations against the EC which forced the latter to approach the Supreme Court.

While the EC did crack the whip in the last leg of elections in West Bengal by cancelling hundreds of rallies and lodging FIRs against violators of Covid normsin , it was widely viewed as a case of too late and too little.

Following the April-May elections, the ECI set up a ‘core committee’ to study the ‘shortcomings’ in the recently conducted polls and steps needed to enforce Covid norms. The committee’s recommendations are expected to help them in decision making on the upcoming polls and determine new Covid-related election protocol, if required.

Meanwhile, political activity has started to pick up pace across all five states. While the Congress in Punjab is caught in a turf battle, Uttar Pradesh is already the scene of hectic political activity. BJP President JP Nadda has wrapped up discussions with Union ministers regarding the early 2022 polls and the RSS has scheduled a five-day annual meeting in Chitrakoot.

While Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati has declared that her party will go solo, the Samajwadi Party’s first set of videos aimed at the 2022 election are pointing to the pandemic and its management by the state. Congress’ Priyanka Gandhi’s political acumen will also be at test in UP.

Both Janata Dal (United) and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) are gearing up to contest UP polls even as the impact of the second wave looms large.

EC plans meetings next month with its machinery in 5 poll-bound states

By ariox