NEW DELHI: Erstwhile bastions of India’s communist-led Left Front, Kerala and West Bengal, are among the clutch of states going to polls in April-May, the election commission announced on Saturday.

The polls will also test Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strength as a popular leader.

The election commission set six-phase elections in West Bengal and two-phase polls in Assam. Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry are to go to polls on May 16. Counting of votes will be held on May 19.

The assembly elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam and Union Territory of Puducherry will be held between April 4, 2016 and May 16, 2016, spread over 43 days.

It will be a single-day polling in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry on May 16, while it will be in six phases in West Bengal and two in Assam.

Counting of votes in all the states will be held on May 19, Chief Election Commissioner Nasim Zaidi announced.

The elections will also see for the first time a symbol, which has been created by the National School of Design, allotted to NOTA (None of the above) that will be placed at the bottom of the list of candidates.

It is widely believed that the Left Front is set to wrest power from the Congress in Kerala, but its former stronghold of West Bengal will see the communists against Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. It is believed that the Communists are seeking an alliance with the Congress to challenger her.

Noting that voters are in the focus of the commission, Mr Zaidi said all booths will have seven basic facilities and there will also be all-women polling booths.

If possible polling centres will be set up in blind schools, leprosy centres to ensure inclusiveness.

Mobile squads will have GPS-fitted vehicles and be accompanied by central forces to ensure that they quickly attend to complaints.

Like in 2011, West Bengal will have polls spread over six phases. The first phase to be held in Naxal-affected areas will have two polling dates — April 4 and April 11. The other phases will be held on April 17, 21, 25, 30 and May 5. Communally sensitive Assam will go to polls in two phases on April 4 and 11.

Mr Zaidi said two dates in the first phase of polling in West Bengal have been decided keeping in mind the sensitive nature of the area and the availability of security personnel as they would also be deployed in Assam which is also considered sensitive.

He maintained that West Bengal will have polls in “overall” six phases.

Published in Dawn, March 6th, 2016

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