The Election Commission announced the poll dates for 5 states today (Representational)
- Bengal to vote in eight phases, from March 27 to April 29
- Tamil Nadu, Kerala to vote in single phase on April 7
- Assam to vote on March 27, April 1, April 6
Elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry will be held from March 27 and the results will be announced on May 2, the Election Commission said on Friday.
Bengal will vote in eight phases, March 27, April 1, April 6, April 10, April 17, April 22, April 26 and April 29.
Tamil Nadu and Kerala will vote in a single round on April 6. Puducherry will also vote on the same day.
Assam will vote on March 27, April 1 and April 6.
The model code of conduct is now in place in all the states. More than 18 crore are eligible to vote in these elections, Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said.
This is the first major set of elections to be held in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic after the Bihar election.
Poll officers will be vaccinated as frontline workers, said the Election Commissioner, adding that new rules for digital sites would be applied on social media.
Polls will be held for 294 seats in West Bengal, 234 seats in Tamil Nadu, 140 seats in Kerala, 126 seats in Assam and 30 seats in the Union Territory of Puducherry.
The Election Commission cited fear of violence while defending eight rounds and said: "We had an assessment of law and order on several factors. Last time it was seven phases so eight is not a big deal."
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee lashed out at the Centre over the longest ever vote and said: "Why is one district (24 Paraganas) voting in three rounds? Has this been done at the instance of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah? The daughter of Bengal has one thing to say. I will defeat all your conspiracies," she said.
Bengal is hurtling towards the most high-stakes battle of all with the two-time Chief Minister facing a tough challenge from the BJP. Her Trinamool Congress has been losing leaders - including her most trusted strategists -- to the BJP and the bleed hasn't stopped. She also accuses the BJP of using central agencies to hound her party men with multiple investigations.
"Khela Hobe (Game On)," is the Trinamool's slogan, with the BJP calling for "poriborton (change)".
In Tamil Nadu, the ruling AIADMK will face its first state election since the death of its charismatic and powerful leader J Jayalalithaa. The opposition DMK-Congress swept the 2019 national election and hopes to continue its good run.
The BJP, never a big player in Tamil Nadu, has more expectations from neighbouring Puducherry, which was placed under President's Rule after the Congress government collapsed.
In the last round of polls in 2016, the Congress could win only Puducherry but the party this week lost power in the Union Territory after multiple resignations - a trend seen in other states like Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka where Congress governments crashed because of defections.
Two of the five MLAs who quit the Congress, pulling it below the majority mark, have joined the BJP and more may follow.
The BJP is also campaigning aggressively to retain power in Assam, where it won for the first time in 2016, beating the Congress.
In Kerala, it's an intense battle for the ruling Left-Led front and the Congress-led opposition coalition. The voters have alternated between the two in past state elections. The CPM hopes to continue its gains in the only state it rules after a victory in the recent local body elections.
The Congress, stunned by its Puducherry loss, seeks to repeat its 2019 national election success, when it won 19 of 20 Lok Sabha seats. The BJP has so far been a minor player but its recruitment drive this time shows the party is prepping to challenge the ruling Left-led coalition in a big way. The party has roped in "Metro Man" E Sreedharan and other high profile faces in the coastal state. Close to 100 Left workers joined the BJP on Thursday.