Vikash Sharma

Ahead of the Panchayat polls, politics has now heated up in Odisha with major political parties including the BJP and Congress throwing weight behind postponement of the polls in view of the current Covid-19 situation in the State.

The Opposition is demanding for postponement of the polls for at least three months citing three reasons- Covid third wave and reservation for ST and OBC candidates. The demands were put forth by the Opposition parties before the State Election Commission during a high-level meeting held on Monday.

Amidst the Opposition demand, the State Election Commissioner Aditya Prasad Padhi said that detailed guidelines will be issued at the earliest on how the upcoming Panchayat polls can be conducted in a free and fair manner across the State.

“All political parties expressed their views on whether the polls can be held or not under the present Covid-19 situation. The Commission has decided to issue guideline based on the recent guidelines issued by the Election Commission of India for the conduct of polls in few States,” said Padhi.

Padhi said that the focus of the State Election Commission will be on conduct of the Panchayat polls in a free and fair manner with strict compliance of Covid protocols.

Senior BJP leader Mohan Majhi said, “At the all party meeting convened by the State Election Commission, we (BJP) put forth nine demands including OBC reservations. Since the experts have already said that the third wave of Covid is likely to peak in the coming days, we demanded the postponement of the polls at least by two-three months.”

Majhi said that BJP believes that the polls can be held in a free and fair manner and the lives of people can be protected only if the polls are held after the Covid-19 third wave peak and fulfilment of demands pertaining to reservations.

Senior Congress leader, Ganeshwar Behera said, “Apart from the BJD, all other parties believe that polls are not feasible under the present circumstances of the steep rise in Covid-19 cases. We demanded to postpone the polls by three months. It is unfortunate that the Commission did not pay any heed to our pleas.”

Behera further said his party had also stated that Tribals and other backwards classes are miffed with the denial of adequate reservations and are staging protests in different parts of the State. “We believe it will not be appropriate to hold the polls without giving them justice,” he added.

On the other hand, senior BJD leader, Amar Patnaik said, “The tenure of the elected representatives of all rural bodies across the State will end in March. BJD wants that the Constitutional right of voters to exercise their franchise is not denied and the polls are held on time. We have assured to extend our support to the Election Commission in conducting the polls while enforcing the Covid-19 protocols strictly.”

In another development, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in Orissa High Court seeking postponement of the three-tier panchayat election in the State. The PIL was filed by Bharatiya Vikas Parishad’s Ganjam district president Gurudev Behera and Jagatsinghpur district president Subrat Das.

In their petition, the Bharatiya Vikas Parishad has said that no provision for OBC reservation has been made in the upcoming polls. Similarly, as Covid-19 cases are rising, there is uncertainty on how the polls can be conducted at a time when third wave is likely to reach its peak in coming days.

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