The Telegraph
 
CIMA Gallary

Triple Thursday holds key to state’s 14 seats

- Model code on, Assembly adjourned sine die; Ram Navami worry hounds Hazaribagh

Ranchi, March 5: Thursday will be the day of destiny for Jharkhand’s Lok Sabha aspirants for its 14 seats as Election Commission of India this morning announced a three-day Parliamentary poll schedule for the state on April 10, 17 and 24.

The EC released the nine-day election schedule covering April-May across India, starting April 7, with vote counting on May 16. For Jharkhand, the first poll day is on April 10 at five seats marked by rebel presence and bordering Bihar and Chhattisgarh — Chatra, Koderma, Lohardaga, Palamau and Hazaribagh. The second, April 17, will comprise five more — Giridih, Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Singhbhum and Khunti — and the third, on April 24, Rajmahal, Dumka, Godda and Dhanbad.

Model code

The Model Code of Conduct has come into effect. “Now, the state government can’t take any policy decision that directly or indirectly influences voters, which includes announcements related to domicile policy, jobs, transfer and posting of officials, fund or project sanctions,” P.K. Jajoria, chief electoral officer (Jharkhand) said.

As if on cue, the state Speaker adjourned the Assembly sine die today, two days before schedule.

Rebel impact

The EC has accepted realistic security concerns in “LWE-hit” Jharkhand. According to its internal reports, of the 23 worst Naxalite-hit districts in India, eight are in Jharkhand, comprising Khunti, Latehar, Lohardaga, Simdega, Palamau, West Singhbhum, Giridih and Chatra. Clubbing rebel-hit constituencies into groups early into the poll schedule is EC’s strategic security decision, based on Union home ministry’s inputs.

“Sanitation in such areas is in full swing. Our priority is removing landmines and instilling voter confidence. We have requested the Centre for 11 choppers. Candidates and election rallies will get security cover,” IG (operations) M.L. Meena, also acting as nodal officer (security) for the elections, said.

Voter profile

EC electoral roll says there are 1.99 crore voters in Jharkhand, of which 1.05 crore are men. There are 20.14 lakh new voters. The number of first-time voters between 18 and 19 years is a sizeable 8,82,073. The number of service voters is 12,926. The tiniest minority group is transgenders with only 26 enlisted as voters.

Turnout target

In the previous LS polls in 2009, Jharkhand recorded 50.8 per cent turnout, which means half the voters stayed at home. “We want to increase it to 75 to 80 per cent. We request the media to cooperate with us. Team India captain M.S. Dhoni is EC’s brand ambassador. We are also in talks with ace archer and Olympian Deepika Kumari who may join us very soon to encourage voters,” Jajoria said.

Money monitor

The EC has hiked the cap on poll cost per candidate from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 70 lakh, but every candidate’s poll expenditure will be scanned. A candidate needs to open a bank account and pay any sum over Rs 20,000 by cheque. “If a candidate is found throwing a khassi bhaat party (mutton-rice to woo rural votes) it will be treated as election expenditure,” said Jajoria.

Help at hand

The EC has started call centre and SMS service (9204750712) to help voters. A door-to-door ASD drive (absent, shifted and dead) will revise existing data. “This year, in a major change, the EC will give voter slips on doorsteps. It is no more a job of political parties or candidates,” said K.K. Soan, additional chief electoral officer for Jharkhand.

Challenges

Hazaribagh: DC Sunil Kumar and SP Manoj Kaushik told EC that the poll date of this district, April 10, will coincide with Ram Navami. It will be a tough task to put curbs on liquor as well as traditional weapons that different akhara members will carry during the processions. “We are ready to hold polls on that day if EC asks us,” Kumar said.

Partyline

JMM: “We are ready… So far, we are fighting four of 14 seats and ally Congress will fight in 10,” said chief minister Hemant Soren.

Cong: State party chief Sukhdeo Bhagat called to Delhi to work out seat-sharing pact to include RJD.

BJP: “We welcome the EC move of holding polls for 14 seats in three days,” said former chief minister Arjun Munda.

JVM: Party chief Babulal Marandi has convened a meeting tomorrow to decide on candidates.

Ajsu: Party will hold a meeting on March 9.

TMC: Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee flagged off the electoral roll call in Jharkhand with nominees Bandhu Tirkey (Ranchi) and Chamra Linda (Lohardaga).