The Election Commission’s decision not to announce the schedule for the upcoming assembly polls in Gujarat simultaneously with Himachal Pradesh has not gone down well with former chief election commissioners. They have alleged that it has badly damaged the credibility of the poll body.
They went on to say that deferring the announcement of Gujarat polls dates is not only a “blot” on the functioning of the EC but it also amounts to the violation of the Constitution. If it is allowed to continue, it may result in “serious consequences” for the Lok Sabha elections to be held in 2019.
The Election Commission on Thursday said that the Assembly elections in Himachal Pradesh would be held on November 9th and counting of votes will be done on December 18. But it did not announce dates for the Gujarat elections.
This means the model code of conduct is now in force in Himachal Pradesh, but this is not the case for Gujarat, since the Gujarat election dates have not been announced yet. The model code of conduct comes into effect the moment the EC announces the poll dates. It bars the Government from announcing any new scheme or project.
K.J. Rao, who retired as adviser to the commission, said he is not aware of the compulsion of the commission to split the announcement of the poll schedule for the two states but agreed with former CEC SY Quraishi that the decision of the EC went against the spirit of the “simultaneous polls”.
“It would have been better if they had announced the poll dates in both states simultaneously. The decision of the EC not to announce the poll dates in the two states simultaneously has let people suspect that it has been done with an aim to enable Prime Minister Narendra Modi to make announcements in the poll-bound Gujarat to entice voters,” he told NewsClick.
As part of the BJP’s high-pitch election campaign, Modi is expected to visit Bhat village near Gandhinagar next week where he may make major announcements to woo voters who are reportedly unhappy with steps taken by the governments in the Centre and the state.
Another ex-election commissioner, who did not want to be identified, went to the extent of alleging that the PM’s scheduled visit is likely the reason for this delay. “The decision has been taken violating the institutional objectives to oblige the regime. The prime minister can now announce new schemes, packages and works without violating the model code of conduct to influence voters,” he added.
The EC on Thursday defended its decision by pointing out that the Gujarat government needed more time for carrying out relief and rehabilitation work for flood affected people, while the Himachal Pradesh administration pressed for completing the polling exercise before mid-November when snow falls is in the higher regions.
Former poll body chief Quraishi termed the decision of the EC as “unfortunate” and said, “The EC must have some good reasons to justify this. Without which, it creates a ground of suspicion which is unfortunate.”
He further said, “I am quite surprised by the EC’s decision as the Gujarat Assembly also expires around the same time as Himachal Pradesh. Why didn’t they club it?”
The term of both the Gujarat and Himachal assemblies come to an end in January 2018. Usually when elections are due within a period of six months, the states are combined and a joint announcement is made. This has been the practice followed so far.
The Opposition parties too used the opportunity to attack the government and the EC. Congress alleged that the BJP government appeared to be “putting pressure” on the EC to defer the announcement of elections in Gujarat to “suit” its political ends.
The party also alleged that the implementation of the model code of conduct has been deferred to allow PM Modi’s rally. “Reason is that PM is visiting Gujarat on October 16, as false Santa Claus to announce sops and jumlas that he didn’t implement for 22 yrs,” Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala wrote on microblogging website Twitter.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) termed the decision as “strange”. “The CEC has announced that the Gujarat polls will be held before the results of Himachal Pradesh elections are declared on December 18. This is even stranger if Gujarat Assembly elections are to be completed before December 18, then the model code of conduct must be applicable to that state as well,” said the party in a press statement.
However, CEC AK Joti refuted these allegations, saying that “the state government had sought more time as it did not want an unusually longer period of the model code of conduct”.
Citing an office memorandum by the Ministry of Law and Justice in April 2001, he said, “The model code of conduct should not extend beyond 46 days. In 2012, the model code of conduct for Gujarat and Himachal started from October 3. In Himachal the elections were held on December 4, but in Gujarat polls were held in two phases: December 13 and 17. The counting was done on December 20. So, from October 3 to December 24 when the election process concluded, it was 83 days, which is unreasonable. We have to be reasonable to state governments,” Joti said.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) too defended the EC’s decision. “The term of the Assembly in both states are expiring on different dates. Secondly, the winter will set in HP. There will be snowfall. Therefore, it was necessary to hold elections here before Gujarat. With an aim to ensure that voters do not get influenced, polls in Gujarat will be held before the results of Himachal elections,” BJP spokesman Zafar Islam told NewsClick.
Asked about the allegation that the EC has taken such decision to let PM Modi announce new packages and schemes in absence of model code of conduct in the poll-bound state to woo voters, he replied, “It is all speculations. No one knows what the prime minister would say during his planned visit to Gujarat. Secondly, if at all that was the intent as alleged, the entire thing could have been preponed. The prime minister is going as per the scheduled plan, which has been prepared long back. It is the Congress which has this kind of mindset and always tries to get undue advantage,” he added.
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