On Wednesday, March 18, the Supreme Court disposed of a plea filed by the Andhra Pradesh government that challenged the state election commission’s (SEC’s) decision to postpone the local body election while stating that it is for the SEC to decide when to hold the elections. However, the court ordered the election commission to lift the election code immediately for the implementation of welfare schemes as urged by the state government.
On March 15, the SEC postponed the local body elections for next six weeks citing the COVID-19 outbreak. The move was contradicted by the ruling party alleging that the main motive behind postponing elections is the political nexus between opposition Telugu Desam Party and Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar, the state election commissioner. After registering their protest against the move with the Governor, the YSRCP-led government moved to the Supreme Court on this matter.
A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde and Justices BR Gavai and Surya Kant has stated that the court would not interfere or direct the SEC on conducting the local body elections within a time frame. Furthermore, the court directed the state government to continue the existing schemes in the state.
Earlier on March 7, the SEC notified an election schedule for rural and urban bodies in the state. Of this, the SEC has already received over 50,000 nominations and finalised the contesting candidates for Mandal Parishad Territorial Constituencies (MPTCs) and Zilla Parishad Territorial Constituencies (ZPTCs). According to YSRCP, of the total 10,243 MPTCs and ZPTCs seats, already over 2,000 YSRCP candidates have been elected unanimously.
Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy on Monday alleged that the present state election commissioner Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar is a close associate of Telugu Desam Party head N Chandrababu Naidu is abusing his power to support Chandrababu Naidu’s agenda by citing coronavirus.
In a press meet CM Jagan said, “The SEC did not even consult the state government or even the health secretary before postponing the elections on the grounds of coronavirus. How can they abruptly take such a decision without getting a sense of what the state government is doing to contain the virus.” Explaining how the state is prepared for containing the virus, he stated that there are village level volunteers who are campaigning about safety measures to be taken and tracking the spread of the virus. Stating that over 80% of the people affected with the virus are already cured, the CM advised the people to not panic as the sensitive situation might continue for over an year.
Jagan has also questioned the powers of Ramesh Kumar who transferred several district collectors after postponing the elections.
Telugu Desam Party leaders welcomed the apex court’s decision stating that it is a setback to the state government. Speaking to AP 24*7 news channel, TDP leader Bonda Uma said, “The state government is neglecting the coronavirus compared to what the neighbouring states are doing and is only keen on winning elections.”
Meanwhile, other opposition parties are accusing the ruling party of using violence during the election process and are demanding fresh elections.
In a press release on Wednesday, the Communist Party of India demanded rescheduling the complete election process. P Murali, CPI leader from Tirupati town, told NewsClick that the ruling YSRCP has threatened and in some cases blocked other party candidates from filing the nominations. “That is the reason why many YSRC candidates won unanimously in many MPTC and ZPTC seats,” he alleged.
Jana Sena Party has also demanded fresh elections. However, it is not clear whether the elections will continue or will be held afresh after the gap.