1. Polls in five States from February 10 to March 7
Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur will be held between February 10 and March 7, the Election Commission of India announced on Saturday.
The counting of votes for all 690 constituencies across the five States, where a total of 18.34 crore citizens are eligible to vote, will be held on March 10.
The Commission banned all physical campaigning till January 15 due to the rise in COVID-19 cases across the country.
Announcing the poll schedule, Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra said the decision was taken after much deliberation.
The polling for Uttar Pradesh’s 403 Assembly seats will be held over seven phases on February 10, February 14, February 20, February 23, February 27, March 3 and March 7.
Punjab, Goa and Uttarakhand will all vote on a single day, February 14, while polling in Manipur will be held over two phases on February 27 and March 3.
Mr. Chandra said no roadshows, padyatras, cycle or bike rallies, vehicle rallies and processions as well as physical rallies would be allowed till January 15 in view of the COVID-19 threat.
Review on Jan. 15
He said the Commission would review the situation on January 15 and take a call on allowing physical campaigning after that.
Answering a question about voters potentially staying away due to the COVID-19 situation, Mr. Chandra said there was “no need to panic”. He said adequate safety measures would be in place at polling booths and all polling staff would be fully vaccinated.
“We should have faith, a belief that we can pass through this particular pandemic also through our safety measures…The decision to go ahead with scheduled elections was taken after much deliberation, discussions and careful analysis of the ever-dynamic situation. The situation is very dynamic, it is not static. Nobody can predict,” Mr. Chandra said.
Citing Article 172(1) of the Constitution that sets a five-year term for each Assembly, Mr. Chandra said, “Any postponement of Assembly elections may result in a situation that denies people of that State the right to elect an accountable government of their choice.”
Mr. Chandra said the Commission had consulted the Union Health Secretary and other health experts ahead of the announcement of the schedule. As of Friday, 95.8% of those eligible to vote in Goa had received both doses of vaccine, while it was 82.39% in Uttarakhand, 45.6% in Punjab, 44.8% in Manipur and 52% in Uttar Pradesh.
In total, more than 15 crore people in the five states had received at least one dose and nine crore had got both doses, he said.
Mr. Chandra said the Commission also reviewed the weekly positivity rate, which was 0.24% in Uttar Pradesh, 1.01% in Uttarakhand, 2.1% in Punjab, 1.1% in Manipur and 13% in Goa “because of the New Year parties by outsiders”.
He later told The Hindu that the Commission would review not just the positivity rate, but other factors as well before deciding whether to allow rallies post-January 15. He said the Commission had ensured safety measures at all polling booths, third dose of vaccine for polling officials, who would be treated as frontline workers, and COVID-safe measures for voters.
The Commission also brought out a revised set of guidelines for the elections. If and when it decides to allow physical rallies, the curbs on the number of people allowed to attend, rules on safety measures and other guidelines issued by the State Disaster Management Authority would apply, Mr. Chandra said. The Chief Election Commissioner said the District Magistrate, the State Chief Secretary and the Election Commission officers would monitor the implementation of the COVID-19 guidelines.
Candidates would also have to submit an affidavit that they would adhere to the guidelines. Victory processions have also been banned, he said.
The announcement of the elections came on a day the country’s daily positivity rate stood at 9.28% and active cases at 4.72 lakh, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
Elections In India
India is a constitutional democracy, which has a parliamentary system of government. Нere elections deals with the elections relating to all state assemblies, union territories, president and as well as vice president elections . According to the people representative act of 1950, the electoral were created to choose representatives from various constituencies to elect the representatives who are having the power to make the making the government and successful running the administration.
Elections In India – Features
Articles 324 through 329 of Part XV of the Constitution cover election-related provisions.
The Election Commission (EC) of India is the sole organization that has been given the authority under Article 324 of the Indian Constitution.
The President shall appoint the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and other Election Commissioners.
India has been divided into geographical constituencies with only one member. For both Parliamentary and Assembly elections, each constituency will have a single electoral roll, and no one will be included or excluded on the basis of religion, race, caste, or sex.
Every individual who is an Indian citizen and has reached the voting age is eligible to register as a voter. If the person is ineligible due to “non-residence, unsoundness of mind, crime, or corrupt or illegal practise,” an exception may be made.
The Constitution gives Parliament the authority to pass legislation governing the creation of electoral rolls, constituency delimitation, and other related procedures.
In addition, the Constitution forbids courts from interfering in electoral processes. Any law relating to the delimitation of constituencies or the assignment of seats cannot be challenged in court.
In India, the First Past the Post system of elections is followed in elections to Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies. The whole country is divided into constituencies. Voters select a single candidate by marking against the candidate of their choice through electronic voting machines. The candidate who secures the highest number of votes is declared elected
System Of Voting
The notion of a universal adult franchise is the cornerstone of democracy, as it ensures that every citizen has the right to one vote, with each vote having equal weight.
Every citizen over the age of 18 has the right to vote, regardless of caste, religion, gender, educational attainment, socioeconomic standing, or other factors.
To ensure that no one is denied their fundamental right to vote for whatever reason, a list of all voters (qualified to vote) is compiled. The Electoral Roll or Voters’ List is the official name for this list.
The voters’ list is distributed to voters in each constituency well in advance of the election for inspection and rectification. On election day, voters cast their ballots according to their names on the voter list.
This system guarantees that no one is denied the right to vote, and that everyone has an equal opportunity to choose their representatives.
Before the election, the government is responsible for updating the voter’s list: fresh names of all eligible voters are added to the list, and names of those who move out of their residence or have died are eliminated.
A complete revision of the voter’s list takes place every five years.
Qualification For Contesting Polls
Education As A Qualification For Contesting Polls
He must be a citizen of India and must subscribe before the Election Commission of India an oath or affirmation
He should not be less than 25 years of age in case of Lok Sabha or State legislative assembly and not less than 30 years of age in case of Rajya Sabha or State legislative council
He must possesses such other qualifications as may be prescribed by Parliament
The Parliament has laid down the following additional qualifications in the Representation of People Act 1951:
At the panchayat and municipality levels, the age limit for contesting elections is 21 years.
In this regard, govt has enacted the Representation of People Act 1950 dealing with:-
Qualifications of voters
Preparation of electoral rolls
Delimitation of constituencies
Allocation of seats in Parliament and State Legislatures
Parliament has also enacted the Representation of People Act 1951 dealing with:-
Administrative machinery dealing with elections
Registration of Political Parties
Process Of Polling And Counting Of Votes
The Election Commission of India prepares a timetable for the election. A particular day is fixed for polling in a particular constituency. This is called election day, usually, it is declared as a holiday.
Nowadays, electronic voting machines (EVM) are used to cast the votes; the machine shows the names of the candidate and the party symbols
A voter needs to press the button against the name of the candidate who he/she wants to elect.
Once the polling is over, all the EVMs are sealed and taken to a centralized place where all the EVMs are kept and later on, votes are counted.
An Electronic Voting Machine was introduced in India to solve the problem of Ballot Box capturing and casting of false vote, which was a common scenario in India while using the Ballot Paper.
The Indian Parliament decided to use the Electronic Voting Machine by the Election Commission of India to Conduct General and State elections in India.
EVMs in India consist of a Ballot Unit, buttons in front of the name of respective Candidates or Political Parties, for the voters and a Control Unit which is operated by the booth officer.
Studies have been conducted which have shown that EVMs have reduced electoral fraud and re-polling due to electoral rigging, and made elections a safe affair, thereby enhancing voter turnout.
Components Of Election Machinery In India
Independent Election Commission :
Elections in our country are conducted through a powerful and independent institution called the Election Commission of India.
The Election Commission of India is constitutional body which is an autonomous body independent of the government. It enjoys the same kind of independence as the judges of the Supreme Court of India.
The Chief Election Commission of India (CEC) is appointed by the President of India, but after his appointment, the Chief Election Commissioner is not answerable to the President or the government.
In a matter of election, it has been given wide powers to conduct free and fair elections. They actively use these powers to form a fair government.
The government or the ruling party has no occasion to influence or pressurize the election commission.
Chief Electoral Officer (CEO):
The Election Commission of India nominates or designates an Officer of the Government of the State/Union Territory as the Chief Electoral Officer in consultation with that State Government/Union Territory Administration.
The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) supervises the election work related to Assembly and Parliament elections.
As per section 13A of the Representation of the People Act 1950, read with section 20 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, the Chief Electoral Officer of a State/Union Territory is authorized to supervise the election work in the State/Union Territory subject to the overall superintendence, direction and control of the Election Commission.
The District Election Officer (DEO):
As per section 13AA of the Representation of the People Act 1950, subject to the superintendence, direction and control of the Chief Electoral Officer, the District Election Officer supervises the election work of a district.
Returning Officer (RO):
The Returning Officer of a parliamentary or assembly constituency is responsible for the conduct of elections in the parliamentary or assembly constituency concerned as per section 21 of the Representation of the People Act 1951.
Electoral Registration Officer (ERO):
The Electoral Registration officer is responsible for the preparation of electoral rolls for a parliamentary / assembly constituency.
The Presiding Officer with the assistance of polling officers conducts the poll at a polling station.
Under section 20B of the Representation of the People Act 1951, the Election Commission of India nominates officers of Government as Observers (General Observers and Election Expenditure Observers) for parliamentary and assembly constituencies.
They perform such functions as are entrusted to them by the Commission. Earlier, the appointment of Observers was made under the plenary powers of the Commission.
But with the amendments made to the Representation of the People Act, 1951 in 1996, these are now statutory appointments. They report directly to the Commission.
Provisions related to model code of conduct
It is a set of guidelines laid down by the Election Commission to govern the conduct of political parties and candidates in the run-up to an election.
This is in line with Art. 324 of the Constitution, which gives the Election Commission the power to supervise elections to the Parliament and state legislatures.
It comes into force the moment an election is announced and remains in force till the results are declared. This was laid down by the Supreme Court in the Union of India vs. Harbans Singh Jalal and Others Case.
It is intended to provide a level playing field for all political parties, to keep the campaign fair and healthy, avoid clashes and conflicts between parties, and ensure peace and order. So, there are guidelines on general conduct, meetings, processions, polling booths, observers, the election manifesto of political parties.
Its main aim is to ensure that the ruling party, either at the Centre or in the states, does not misuse its official position to gain an unfair advantage in an election. There are guidelines on conduct of ministers and other authorities in announcing new schemes, using public exchequer for advertisements etc.
Media Policy Of The Commission
The Commission has a comprehensive policy for the media. It holds regular briefings for the mass media-print and electronic, on a regular basis, at close intervals during the election period and on specific occasions as necessary on other occasions.
The representatives of the media are also provided facilities to report on actual conduct of poll and counting. They are allowed entry into polling stations and counting centres on the basis of authority letters issued by the Commission.
They include members of both international and national media. The Commission also publishes statistical reports and other documents which are available in the public domain. The library of the Commission is available for research and study to members of the academic fraternity; media representatives and anybody else interested.
The Commission has, in cooperation with the state owned media – Doordarshan and All India Radio, taken up a major campaign for awareness of voters.
The company which manages the national Radio and Television networks, Prasar Bharti Corporation has brought out several innovative and effective short clips for this purpose.
2. Great expectations: Assembly polls will influence the course of national politics
The election outcomes will set the tone for 2024 across parties and issues
Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur, Punjab and Goa will litigate some key political questions that will have resonance across the country. There are at least six defining issues of these Assembly elections that will influence the course the country’s politics ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
First, two national parties are defending one of their key turfs each this time — the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and the Congress in Punjab.
To understand the importance of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab in the scheme of things of the BJP and the Congress, respectively, note the contribution that these States make to their national strength. Eleven of the Congress’s 52 Lok Sabha seats — 20% — comes from Punjab. Of the BJP’s 301 Lok Sabha seats, 62, again 20%, comes from Uttar Pradesh.
The BJP and the Congress are not facing each other, however, as they do in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh. The Opposition space is in a flux in both States. The Samajwadi Party (SP) is drawing crowds in Uttar Pradesh, and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is a talking point in Punjab, but incumbents appear to have an upper hand at the start.
Secondly, both national parties have a ‘minority problem’ that is in the spotlight. The BJP is practically non-existent in Punjab; and the Congress is practically non-existent in Uttar Pradesh — which shows a fundamental struggle that these national parties face. The BJP is impulsively mistrusted by religious minorities, and its efforts to woo Sikhs, remain half-hearted. It swings between accommodation and hostility. The party’s confrontation with Sikhs, a largely farming community, on the question of three controversial farm laws, has shrunk its appeal further this time.
The Congress on the other hand is seen largely as the party inherently trusted by the religious minorities. The party’s strongholds these days are regions and constituencies that have a significant population of minorities, leaving it unviable in places and situations of communal polarisation.
The BJP’s minority problem is that it is not trusted by them; the Congress’s is that its base is confined to minority regions. The BJP has been wooing Sikhs in Punjab through measures such as making visits to their sacred sites in Pakistan easier; it perhaps wanted to signal friendship to Catholics in Goa, who constitute a third of the population, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with the Pontiff last year.
The BJP wants to get a foothold in Punjab; the Congress wants to get a foothold in Uttar Pradesh, through these elections.
Third, leadership questions for both parties will come into sharp focus through these elections. If the BJP wins Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath will emerge as the prospective successor to Mr. Modi. His brand campaign in recent months puts the spotlight on him as an unapologetically brash Hindu leader who is turning around India’s biggest State — replicating what Mr. Modi had done as CM of Gujarat in the run up to 2014. Unlike other Chief Ministers of the party. Mr. Adityanath has already established himself outside the shadow of Mr. Modi.
In the Congress, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra is in charge of its Uttar Pradesh strategy; and she chose Navjot Singh Sidhu as party president in Punjab. The party’s performance will reflect on her leadership skills, and influence internal debates on her role.
Fourth, two models of regional politics are at test in these elections. The SP in Uttar Pradesh represents backward politics led by a dominant caste; the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab helms a minority religious politics.
These are two distinct models in the spectrum of regional political formations in India. Both are facing a crisis, as their traditional mobilisation strategies are now weak, and their corruption-ridden dynastic politics is increasingly unacceptable to the electorate.
Fifth, Dalit politics in the heartland is at a crossroads. Dominated by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) until some years ago, Dalits politics is adrift now, and is in search of a platform. The BSP, which has been in power in Uttar Pradesh several times in the past, appears to be in terminal decline. It had a strong presence in Punjab too, though it never won power.
The BJP has made significant inroads among the Dalits, at the cost of the BSP in Uttar Pradesh. In Punjab, the Dalits have largely voted for the Congress in the past, and the party is trying to consolidate them following the appointment of Charanjit Singh Channi, a Dalit, as Chief Minister.
The outcomes of these Assembly elections may give some indication of how Dalit politics will evolve from here on. The BJP and the Congress are both trying to expand their acceptance among the Dalits.
Sixth, the ambitions of two Chief Ministers who want to form a non-Congress alternative to the BJP are on test in these elections. Delhi Chief Minister and AAP supremo Arvind Kejriwal, and West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee are testing their politics outside their respective current arenas.
Both want to emerge as the principal challenger to Mr. Modi ahead of 2024. Mr. Kejriwal’s focus is Punjab where his party had emerged as the second largest in 2017; Ms. Banerjee is focussing on Goa. The AAP is also in Goa, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh; TMC is trying to be a player in Manipur.
The national ambitions of these two leaders are based on two different models and two different sets of calculations.
Their performance this time can influence the course of national politics ahead of 2024.
3. Omicron epidemic: third wave or new pandemic?
Both Delta and Omicron might co-exist, needing more vaccines in 2022
India is facing an epidemic wave of Omicron disease presenting mostly with sore throat, nasal discharge – without cough or high fever. Pneumonia is uncommon. Blood oxygen level remains normal.
Some senior citizens and those with diseases or therapies that weaken the immune system do get severe disease requiring hospitalisation. Altogether, Omicron disease is a milder version of COVID-19 with Wuhan-D614G or Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants.
All previous variants had few mutational changes of the spike protein, Omicron has many more, particularly in the ‘receptor-binding domain’ (RBD), the ligand that binds to host cell receptor, ACE-2. While earlier variants have 8-9 mutations on the S1 portion, Omicron has 32-37 in different studies. On RBD, Omicron has 15 mutations, while others have only 1 to 3. This many mutations have resulted in several alterations in the virus-host cell interactions. For example, the viral load in saliva is high, allowing high sensitivity in RT-PCR of saliva samples. Much virus is broadcast into air even without cough. Obviously, the need for face masks cannot be overemphasised, to block virus shedding (by the infected) and to prevent inhaling air-borne virus (by others).
Coronaviruses have two cell entry processes – the major one by fusion of virus envelope with the cell membrane and the minor one by fusion with the endosomes within the cytoplasm. Virus multiplication is far more efficient with major than minor process. All previous variants use the major cell entry process.
Omicron uses the second process, as elucidated in laboratory experiments. After receptor-binding the receptor–virus complex is ‘swallowed up’ by the cell through ‘endocytosis’ without affecting the cell membrane. The endocytotic vesicle (invagination of cell membrane) then fuses with subcellular organelle called endosome, a normal process. The virus coat now fuses with endosome membrane, releasing the virus genome into the cytoplasm.
In the first process with cell-surface fusion, all adjacent cells also fuse with the infected cell and form a ‘syncytium’ – giant cell with multiple nuclei. Syncytia are closely associated with disease severity, particularly with lung pathology. In laboratory experiments with Omicron, syncytium formation does not occur. This change presumably leads to less virus production in the body, less invasion of organs and tissues, lower severity and duration of symptoms, decreased need for hospitalisation and low case-fatality ratio – altogether a watered down 2021 version of COVID 2019. Omicron resembles influenza virus infection that remains mostly confined to upper respiratory tract.
Omicron has a propensity for immunity evasion. Virus neutralising antibodies induced by infection by all earlier variants or any of the available vaccines are far less effective against Omicron disease. Most monoclonal antibodies that were effective to treat COVID-19 are no longer effective to treat Omicron disease. However, the world over, high degree of protection against severe disease requiring hospitalisation by enhanced antibody levels achieved by a booster dose, is observed. Experience from the U.K. is instructive. Vaccine effectiveness against Omicron disease requiring hospitalisation was 72% during 2-24 weeks after second dose, but only 52% after 25 or more weeks – significantly increasing to 88% two weeks after a booster dose.
Even when antibody fitness to the virus (affinity) is low, the sheer magnitude of antibody level enables antibody-binding to more viruses, thus enhancing functional effectiveness as shown in the U.K. Had India gone on a massive public education on the importance of two doses of vaccine to mitigate the impact of Omicron wave, and also on the value of booster doses to increase protection, we could have had a relatively normal life in India during January–February of 2022 – many scientific meetings and other events scheduled for these months could have proceeded unhindered, instead of getting postponed.
These many changes – genetic, fundamental cell–virus interactions, pathology, virulence, disease characteristics, immunity evasion – set Omicron apart from all other variants. To emphasise its greater deviation than other variants, imagine the term ‘deviant’.
The term deviant indicates the high degree and abruptness (non-continuum) of change – in virology, the terms used to represent substantial genetic differences are: lineage, sub-type or serotype – depending on the degree of deviation. We expect the International Committee of Taxonomy of Viruses will address this question without delay, as we have already alerted the WHO and the International Society of Infectious Diseases.
If we consider Omicron disease sufficiently different from Coronavirus disease of 2019 (COVID-19), perhaps it deserves the name COVID-21. If it is considered a deviant with antigenic shift, rather than drift, as is the case in all variants, the current upsurge of disease overcoming high population immunity can be considered a new pandemic, not simply a wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Analogy with Influenza Type A virus epidemiology is interesting. The 1957 pandemic due to a subtype H2N2 emerged when the H1N1 of 1918 pandemic was still circulating as endemic/seasonal. H2N2 with antigenic shift not only spread globally, but it also displaced H1N1 from circulation – why? Immunity induced by H2N2 was sufficient to prevent H1N1 circulation. In 1968, the next pandemic started with H3N2 subtype; it displaced H2N2, presumably due to cross-immunity. The 2009 pandemic was with a new variant of H1N1, with borrowed genes from swine influenza, and named H1N1pdm09 to distinguish it from the earlier H1N1. Antigenic cross-reactivity with H3N2 was not strong – hence both H3N2 and H1N1pdm09 are in co-circulation globally as endemic/seasonal.
While Delta variant overshadowed all earlier variants that are nowadays infrequently found anywhere, we anticipate that Omicron with antigenic shift and compromised cross-reactivity may not displace Delta. Omicron being more transmissible than Delta, we speculate: (1) In 2022, both Delta and Omicron might co-circulate, and (2) we may need vaccines against all variants of SARS-CoV-2 as well as against Omicron and its future variants, if any.
What is the difference between Omicron and Delta Variant?
The recently discovered variant of Covid 19 called Omicron, is speculated to be more troublesome than the Delta variant.
|Delta Variant||Omicron Variant|
|Delta variant is known as B.1.617.2||Omicron Variants scientific name is B.1.1.529|
|Delta was first reported in India||Omicron variant was first reported in Southern Africa|
|Delta Plus Variant was a variant of concern but not Delta||Omicron is a Variant of Concern. It was first reported on November 24.|
|The Delta Plus variant has acquired the spike protein mutation called K417N which is also found in the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.||Omicron carries a high number of mutations in its spike protein, which has the main role in the virus’ entry into cells in the human body. The B.1.1.529 variant has 50 mutations, which has more than 30 mutations on the spike protein which is the target of most current Covid vaccines.|
|Delta Plus was present in almost 12 countries. It was first reported in Mysuru.||The Omicron variant is found in 6 countries now.|
|Delta was not very heavily mutated.||Omicron is the most mutated virus till now.|
|Delta variant can be controlled by vaccine||Omicron variant has lower chances of being controlled by the present vaccines|