The Election Commission of India (ECI) on Sunday announced the dates of the upcoming Lok Sabha Polls. According to the dates announced by the commission, the state of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal will cast their votes in all seven phases. Soon after the announcement, political parties in the state of West Bengal were seen divided over the dates clashing with Ramzan. Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader and Kolkata Municipal Corporation Mayor Firhad Hakim said, “People will face problems in exercising their voting rights as some poll dates are clashing with Ramzan. Since the Election Commission is a constitutional body, I don’t want to comment much into the matter. But they should have considered that people will suffer during Ramzan (in casting votes).”
He said, “EC has announced the poll dates on Ramzan so that minorities are unable to cast their votes. But I would like to tell them (the BJP) that the people of Bengal are with (Trinamool chief) Mamata Banerjee.”
The state of West Bengal has nearly 31 per cent Muslim voters and many believe that the dates clashing with Ramzan will become a key issue in Bengal. In Malda and Murshidabad districts alone, the minority voters’ strength is nearly 52 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively.
During the last panchayat election also , party leaders led by minister Partha Chatterjee met West Bengal election commissioner AK Singh and requested him to conclude the rural polls before the month of fasting for the minority community begins.
West Bengal Congress president Somendra Nath Mitra also said the poll panel should consider the matter.
“We have a large number of Muslim voters and the EC should consider the poll dates as per the Ramzan observance,” Mitra said.
However, the BJP’s all-India secretary, minority morcha, Arshad Alam, said, “It’s not written anywhere in Islam that one has to take rest in air-conditioned rooms while fasting during Ramzan. For us, Ramzan mean ‘Ibadat’ under any circumstances.”
“A true Muslim will keep ‘roza’ during Ramzan and will also perform his/her normal duties towards society and family. I don’t understand why political leaders every time drag Ramzan during elections. This time, we have decided to make this an issue and we will make people aware that please don’t fall in this trap of the opposition.”
Lok Sabha elections will begin on April 11 and polling would be held over seven phases through May 19, followed by counting of all votes on May 23, the Election Commission announced on Sunday.
Assembly polls in Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal, Odisha and Sikkim will also be held simultaneously, the Election Commission (EC) said. However, elections for the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, which was dissolved after the ruling coalition between the BJP and the PDP fell apart, will not be held along with the Lok Sabha polls.
Chief Election Commissioner Sunil Arora said the model code of conduct would come into immediate effect from Sunday and 10 lakhs polling stations would be set up this time as against about nine lakhs in 2014. Nearly 90 crore voters would be eligible to vote for 543 Lok Sabha constituencies across the country.
The election will pit the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance against several opposition parties, including the Congress, the Left and regional forces who are continuing to work out a grand alliance to minimise a division of votes against Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led ruling combine.
The BJP has succeeded in working out seat-sharing formula with some new allies and several old partners, by even making concessions to them in states like Bihar. However, opposition parties are yet to arrive at a deal in several states.
While the NDA hopes to make history by coming back to power for a second full term, the Opposition wants to unseat the Modi government by raising questions on its performance on a host of issues, including economic growth, employment, corruption and social harmony.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee had led the NDA to back to back Lok Sabha wins in 1998 and 1999 general elections but he was at the helm of only one full-term government.
Announcing the schedule for 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the Election Commission said the ?voter verifiable paper audit trail' (VVPAT) will be used in all polling stations this time.
The first phase will be held on April 11, second on April 18, third on April 23 and fourth on April 29, fifth on May 6, sixth on May 12 and seventh phase on May 19.
Counting of votes for all seven phases covering 543 Lok Sabha constituencies would take place on May 23, Arora said.
In the first phase, 91 constituencies will to go for polls, 97 constituencies in the second phase, 115 constituencies in the third, 71 in fourth phase, 51 in fifth phase, 59 in sixth and 59 in the seventh phase.
With the model code of conduct for elections coming into immediate effect, the government cannot announce any policy move that may impact voters' decision. Arora said all political advertisements on social media will need pre-certification.