New Delhi: Counting of votes for the Assam, Bengal, Kerala, Puducherry and Tamil Nadu Assembly polls - held between March 27 and April 29 - starts at 8 am today, amid a devastating second COVID wave and concerns the process could lead to an even bigger spike.
According to NDTV, the battle for Bengal is likely to make the biggest headlines, with the Trinamool and the BJP having waged a bitter, and at times crass, campaign. The biggest fight will be for Nandigram, where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and the BJP's Suvendhu Adhikari, her ex-protege and whose December defection triggered a flood of exits, will face off against each other.
In Assam, the BJP is looking for a second straight term and has allied with the Asom Gana Parishad and the UPPL (United People's Party Liberal) to secure the state. The Congress campaigned hard to reclaim its one-time bastion. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma are two of the biggest names on the ballot.
In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the BJP is looking to make inroads into states where it is a minor player. While it is fighting on its own in Kerala, in Tamil Nadu the BJP has allied with the ruling AIADMK. In Kerala, the incumbent LDF is hoping to buck tradition and win re-election. The Congress-led UDF is the other main alliance. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress has allied with MK Stalin's DMK, with whom it enjoyed a very successful time in the Lok Sabha polls.
The Election Commission on Tuesday banned all victory processions on the day of - or even after - the counting of votes. Amid concern over the spike in cases - and facing criticism over failure to enforce its own rules - the poll body has also said candidates will not be allowed inside counting centres without either a negative Covid report (no older than 48 hours) or confirmation that they'd received both their vaccine shots.
All five elections were held as India was hit by a massive surge in coronavirus cases. On March 14, two weeks before the first phase there were fewer than 25,000 new cases per day. On March 27 there were around 62,000 and, by April 29, there was well over 3.5 lakh per day. On Saturday the country crossed the four-lakh mark for the first time.