Elections in India’s most populous state to start on Feb 10

The outcome of the election in the northern state, currently
ruled by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), will be seen a barometer for
national elections due in 2024.

Voting will be finalised on Mar 7, with results expected
from March 10, the Commission said.

It has announced polling dates for five states at a time
when the country is facing a soaring number of coronavirus infections.

Punjab, ruled by rival Congress Party, the BJP-led Himalayan
state of Uttarakhand and tourist and mining hotspot Goa in the West will hold
elections on Feb 14, the Commission said. The northeastern state of Manipur,
also ruled by the BJP, will have elections in two phases on Feb 27 and Mar 3.

Chandra said the political parties were barred from holding
election rallies and roadshows until Jan 15 in view of the rising number of
COVID cases.

“(The) Commission shall subsequently review the
situation and issue further instructions accordingly,” he said, urging the
parties to use online channels for campaigning instead.

India on Saturday reported 141,986 new COVID-19 cases, the
highest daily number since the end of May, and 285 new deaths. Recorded case
numbers have reached 35 million since the beginning of the pandemic.

Last year, Modi’s government had faced severe criticism for
his handling of the pandemic during a second wave that overran healthcare
systems across the country.

Government officials have privately said daily cases in the
country’s third wave of infections could surpass the record of more than
414,000 hit last May, due to the fast spread of the omicron variant.

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India has embarked on a massive vaccination drive for those
aged 15 and above. However, millions are vulnerable to new infections,
particularly in the vast hinterlands of states such as Uttar Pradesh where
healthcare is inadequate.

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