The counting of votes for the assembly polls is being taken up at a time when the country is grappling with a raging COVID pandemic.
Counting of votes began at 8 AM and continue late into the night with as many as 1,100 counting observers watching the process.
Exit polls have forecast a tight contest between the incumbent Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and the BJP in the crucial West Bengal assembly polls and put the ruling saffron combine ahead in Assam while projecting that the Left alliance will retain Kerala, a feat unseen in four decades.
For the Congress, the exit polls predicted that it may fall short in Assam and Kerala and lose in Puducherry to the opposition alliance of AINRC-BJP-AIADMK.
The only good news for the Congress was from Tamil Nadu, where the exit polls predicted that the DMK-led opposition alliance, of which it is a part, will trounce the AIADMK-BJP coalition.
The poll results in the four states and the UT are also likely to reflect how the handling of the COVID pandemic has played on the voters’ mind.
Polling was held in eight phases in West Bengal between March 27 and April 29, in Assam in three stages on March 27, April 1 and 6, while votes were cast in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and the Union Territory of Puducherry in a single phase on April 6, when the COVID surge had begun in many of the states.
Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal are among the 11 states that account for 78.22 per cent of the total active cases, according to the Health ministry.
West Bengal will have the maximum number of 1,113 counting halls, Kerala 633, Assam 331, Tamil Nadu 256 and Puducherry 31, the EC said.
A three-tier security arrangement is in place in West Bengal’s counting centres and 256 companies of central forces deployed across 23 districts of the state that voted in a gruelling election marred by violence and vicious personal attacks.
The result will decide whether Mamata Banerjee, who has been in power for 10 years and is arguably fighting the toughest poll of her political career, has been able to thwart the challenge by the battle-hardened election army of the BJP led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.
The BJP, which had just three seats in the 294-member Assembly after the polls and went to win 18 out of 42 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, had pulled out all the stops in the state in a determined bid to oust Banerjee, a vocal critic of Prime Minister Modi, and add another state to its tally of 17.
The Left-Congress alliance is the third main contestant in the state.
In Tamil Nadu, both Dravidian parties — AIADMK and DMK — went into the election without their stalwarts, J Jayalalithaa and M Karunanidhi.
In Kerala, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) is seeking to break the state’s four-decade-old trend of swinging between the communists and the Congress-led United Democratic Front.
In Assam, the ruling BJP is facing a challenge from ‘Mahajoth’ or ‘Grand Alliance’ comprising the Congress, AIUDF, Bodoland Peoples’ Front (BPF), CPI(M), CPI, CPI(ML) Liberation, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) and the Anchalik Gana Morcha (AGM).
The BJP has an alliance with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), the United People’s Party Liberal (UPPL) and the Gana Suraksha Party (GSP),
In Puducherry, the AINRC-led NDA and the Congress-led Secular Democratic alliance are in a contest. While AINRC fielded candidates in 16 of the total 30 constituencies the BJP is contesting nine seats while the AIADMK is contesting five seats.
Counting will also be held in four Lok Sabha seats and 13 assembly seats across 13 states where bypolls were held.
The EC has banned victory roadshows and vehicle rallies.
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