Lucknow: Counting of votes polled in the crucial Uttar Pradesh elections will take place on Thursday, the outcome of which will decide whether the BJP returns to power for the second consecutive term.
“Counting in all the 75 districts of the state will begin at 8 am. The postal ballots will be counted first, and then the votes polled in the EVMs will be counted,” a senior election official told PTI.
Almost all the exit polls have predicted that the BJP will return to power. They have forecast an increase in Samajwadi Party’s tally but not enough to form the government.
The exit polls have forecast double-digit numbers for the BSP and single-digit count for the Congress.
Both the SP and BSP have dismissed the exit polls, claiming that they would win the poll comfortably and form their government in the state, which has a 403-member assembly.
If the BJP comes to power, it would be a record for a party getting re-elected in UP for a second term in over three decades.
In 2017, BJP had won 312 seats on its own while NDA’s figure was 325.
The SP had won 47, BSP 19 and the Congress had won seven seats, two less than Apna Dal (S) at nine.
The BJP went in the polls this time with Apna Dal (Sonelal) and NISHAD party while Akhilesh Yadav had formed a rainbow coalition with RLD and a string of regional parties, including Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP).
Considering its bearing on the 2024 Parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence minister Rajnath Singh, Home Minister Amit Shah, BJP president J P Nadda and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath aggressively campaigned across the state to drum up support for the saffron party.
On Tuesday, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav accused the ruling BJP of trying to “steal” votes and claimed a truck carrying EVMs was “intercepted” in Varanasi, but the Election Commission clarified that the machines were for training officials on counting duty and had not been used in elections.
In a statement issued late on Tuesday night, the office of the Chief Electoral Officer of UP said, “Rumours were spread by people of some political party by stopping the vehicle and alleging that these EVMs were used in elections.
“According to the report sent by the District Election Officer (of Varanasi), it was found during the investigation that these EVMs were marked for training…Training has been organised for March 9 (Wednesday),” it had said.
The voting for the politically-important state was done in seven rounds starting February 10.
For the opposition, Akhilesh addressed 131 rallies and roadshows to take on the pantheon of leaders from the ruling camp.
Mayawati, whose absence on the ground had initially triggered speculations that BSP was out of the power race, also hit the streets in favour of her party nominees.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who led the party from the front in UP, attended 209 rallies and roadshows, maximum among top leaders of various parties, in a bid to regain lost ground for her party in the Hindi heartland.
Sonia Gandhi virtually addressed voters in her Rae Bereli constituency while Rahul Gandhi addressed two rallies – one in Amethi and another in Varanasi.
Elaborating about arrangements on March 10, the election official said, “Covid protocols, including the use of hand gloves, sanitisers, masks, thermal scanners and adhering to social distancing norms, will be followed at the counting centres throughout the state.”
“The votes cast through postal ballots, including those by people with disabilities and senior citizens above 80 years, will be counted manually, while the votes of the service voters — ETPBS (Electronically Transmitted Postal Ballot System) will be done online,” he said.
Apart from this, VVPAT (Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail) slips of five machines will be counted in every assembly constituency.
The Supreme Court had on April 8, 2019 directed the Election Commission to increase random matching of VVPAT slips with EVMs to five polling booths per assembly segment, from one, during the then Lok Sabha polls, saying it will provide greater satisfaction not just to political parties but to the entire electorate.
Video and static cameras have been installed at all the counting centres, the official said, adding media centres have also been set up there.
“Adequate AROs (Assistant Returning Officers) have been deployed in every assembly constituency for interruption-free counting,” the senior official said.
Elaborating on the security arrangements, the official said a three-layer security set-up has been made comprising of central police forces, PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary) and the state police.
A total of 250 companies of CAPFs (Central Armed Police Forces) have been provided to all the districts and commissionerates on March 10, the police said.
According to officials, a CAPF company usually has around 70-80 personnel.
Of the 250, 36 companies have been earmarked for EVM security and 214 for maintaining law and order. Besides the CAPFs, 61 companies of PAC have also been provided to all districts, they said.
Officials said 625 gazetted officers of UP Police,; 1,807 inspectors; 9,598 sub-inspectors, 11,627 head constables and 48,649 constables have also been put on duty.
The Model Code of Conduct came into force on January 8 after the announcement of polls in Uttar Pradesh by the Election Commission.