The election dates are finally out. Goa will go to the polls on February 4. This gives political parties roughly 15 days to finalise candidates and complete the nomination process and another 15 days to canvass. And then, from February 4 to March 11 everyone will have to twiddle thumbs while the election process in Uttar Pradesh and Manipur roll on. Goa and Punjab will go to the polls on the same day while Uttar Pradesh, the largest state with the highest stakes, will have seven phases.
Parties had started the process of selecting candidates sometime back with the Congress employing an elaborate process and the BJP conducting an internal poll to separate potential winners from losers. The AAP was first off the blocks with their candidates and their formula of taking inputs from the ground to formulate a manifesto is being followed by others.
The announcement of polls by Election Commission of India means the code of conduct is now in play and announcement of schemes, projects or benefits of any kind to the voters is prohibited. It also follows that though Laxmikant Parsekar is still the chief minister, it is the EC which will call the shots. Transfer of govt officials will be dictated by the EC in pursuance of conducting a free and fair poll. The EC is also tasked with curbing use of money and flow of liquor.
While the EC has perfected the art of conducting elections, it is in matters pertaining to use of money that it has been found wanting. Not because it is incompetent but because candidates and political parties have perfected the art of using money and creating expenditure trails that never cross the specified limit. So, although the attempt is to create a level playing field for all candidates, rich and poor, in reality this has been a work in progress. Elections are a complicated business, after all.
Even though Goa is a small state, it punches above it weight, thanks to its brand value. While the stakes are high for the BJP, which has to retain the State, at least to prove that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetization ‘jatka’ has the support of the people, the stakes are higher for the Congress which has to show the nation that it has emerged from the decline that started with the 2014 loss to Team-Modi.
Between these two formations lie the MGP, which has smelt blood on the election floor, the GSM with a communal agenda, AAP with larger than life dreams and Goa Forward which wants to save the coconut tree. The NCP, which did not win a single seat in 2012 is making another attempt while Suraj Party got a shot in the arm thanks to the entry of Mickky Pacheco.
Will political parties be ready in 30 days? Because the electorate has been waiting for five years to have their say.