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Contest Begins

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Election season kicked-off in Uttarakhand on the day Trivendra Singh Rawat vacated the Chief Minister’s chair. It encouraged the opposition, for which read the Congress, to begin its campaign early in expectation of exploiting the many questions the event had raised. Tirath Singh Rawat’s stumbling short term in office added greater impetus to the finger-pointing. Pushkar Singh Dhami, the present incumbent, has considerably blunted the attack but the contest is well and truly on. It has now been officially declared by the Election Commission, with polling to take place on 14 February and votes to be counted after a painfully prolonged gap on 10 March. With the Model Code of Conduct in force, whatever advantage the government had of providing sops to the populace has been curbed. All parties are now technically on equal footing and can only promise for the future.

Thankfully, Uttarakhand is a state that can still conduct the voting process in a day, ensuring thereby that the rest of the campaign will be reasonably short. The ban on rallies, which is likely to be further extended, will prove a challenge for the parties, but necessity being the mother of invention could bring about a new style of campaigning, likely to be adopted more frequently and effectively in the future.

The staggered voting process, as in UP, cannot be described as perfectly democratic, as trends in the first rounds become known to those casting their ballots later, influencing voting patterns. It is a tough choice for the Election Commission to make between ensuring law and order on voting day and obtaining a truly objective mandate. Events in between phases can tilt public opinion, a classic example of which was the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, so it becomes in effect separate mandates.

Change in governments comes about essentially due to a particular level of anti-incumbency, as also the availability of an acceptable if not desirable alternative. Unity among opposition votes also counts, especially in the first past the post system. The BJP’s declared intent to get fifty plus percent of the votes is designed to eliminate this factor, particularly in Uttarakhand and UP. Such a mandate would also open for it the opportunity for more decisive governance in the future. On the other side of the coin is the kind of situation in Punjab, where public opinion is deeply divided and could require a post poll alliance for government formation. Whatever the case, despite threats and challenges such as Covid-19, elections remain an essential part of the Indian way of life and need to be conducted on time and as impartially as possible.