LS poll declaration likely in second week of March

The Election Commission of India is set to push the pedal on the Lok Sabha polls next week, with the poll panel’s top brass heading to states for final checks. The planned visit seems to indicate that the 2024 poll calendar could be similar to the 2019 one.

ET gathers that visits to various states are lined up right until the first few days of March. This would mean that contrary to speculations of earlier elections, the 2024 Lok Sabha poll announcement and notification may be similar to the 2019 one when general elections were announced on March 10 and wrapped up by May 24.

There are many other factors to consider — ranging from phasing of polls to security considerations. So far, the commission has only visited Andhra Pradesh, on January 10-11.

It is planning to travel to Odisha next week from February 15 to 17, ET has gathered. The state undergoes simultaneous assembly and Lok Sabha polls and a thorough review is planned. Soon after Odisha, it is expected that the commission will head to Bihar and Tamil Nadu. Visits to West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh are likely to be slated between February-end and early March, ET has learnt.

Plans are said to be afoot to visit Jammu & Kashmir as well, which is awaiting assembly elections. Senior ECI officials are likely to do a physical stock-taking in J&K prior to the commission’s visit, which is bound to draw considerable political attention.

The election commission is expected to hold a meeting with the Ministry of Home Affairs prior to its J&K visit to assess the security situation and requirements of paramilitary deployment, both for J&K and national polls.

Incidentally, election commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey will retire before the visits begin.

This will leave a two-member commission in the saddle, including chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar and election commissioner Arun Goel.

The prime minister-chaired committee to select a new EC has already conducted its first meeting this week. A full three-member commission is likely to be in place before the elections.

Meanwhile, systematic checks are being conducted across states towards election readiness. It is estimated that the total number of polling stations will increase from 10.36 lakh in 2019 to 11.8 lakh in 2024. The number of voters is also expected to rise from 90 crore in 2019 to above 95 crore. Both factors will impact security considerations. The phasing of elections will also depend on the same. The 2019 poll was held in seven phases against the nine phases of 2014.

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William Murphy

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