Gujarat Polls: EC Draws Ire Due to Delay in Announcing Dates


Despite the defence by the Election Commission, eyebrows are raised at the delay in announcing Gujarat poll dates.
Despite the defence by the Election Commission, eyebrows are raised at the delay in announcing Gujarat poll dates.(Photo: Erum Gour/ The Quint)

Gujarat Polls: EC Draws Ire Due to Delay in Announcing Dates

The Election Commission’s (EC) last-minute decision on Thursday to delink announcement of poll schedules for Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat has raised eyebrows in political and bureaucratic circles, with even former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi questioning the rationale behind the unconventional move.

Opposition Cries Foul

The EC announced the schedule for Himachal while holding off the dates for Gujarat ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled visit on Monday to take part in the Gujarat Gaurav Yatra.

The Opposition cried foul alleging that the EC, delaying the Model Code of Conduct by implication, has accorded unfair advantage to the BJP as the prime minister, they fear, may announce sops for the poll-bound state during his campaign.

Interestingly, ahead of the press conference by the EC at 4:04 pm, the Press Information Bureau had tweeted:

However, the media contingent was bit disappointed as the Commission held back the Gujarat dates. Election schedules for Himachal and Gujarat were announced simultaneously in 1998, 2007 and 2012 with the exception of 2002 due to logical challenges faced by the government in the aftermath of the Godhra riots.

No-Holds-Barred Elections

Perhaps the contentious novelty is that this time the prime minister is visiting the state on the eve of announcement of poll dates.

Gujarat is gearing up for a no-holds-barred election, most likely in the first week of December. What makes the polls even more interesting is that it may be the first election that the Congress will be fighting with Rahul Gandhi as party president.

The entry of Aam Admi Party into electoral arena, followed by Jan Vikalp, a front set up by Congress rebel Shankersinh Vaghela, the NCP fielding its own candidates, the split in Janata Dal (U), and the upsurge among Dalits and Patidars against the BJP have added a new dimension to the otherwise sedate Gujarat elections.

During his recent road shows, Rahul Gandhi has managed to strike a chord with a large section of voters reeling under the adverse impact of demonetisation, hasty implementation of GST and slump in economy.

The BJP is expected to mount an attack on the Congress on corruption and dynasty.

EC Defends its Move

Chief Election Commissioner Achal Kumar Joti, however, rebutted inferences that the Gujarat poll dates were withheld following pressure from the central government. He said the Gujarat election schedule will be notified soon.

Gujarat poll schedules are not announced right now due to the existing rules on time limit (46 days) for holding elections, but it will take place before 18 December, to ensure that Himachal Pradesh election results do not impact the Gujarat elections.
Achal Kumar Joti, Chief Election Commissioner

The term of the current Assembly in Himachal ends on 7 January and that of Gujarat on 22 January, with a gap of just 15 days.

So far, the convention has been to club state elections where incumbent governments complete their five-year term within six months.

Joti justified the announcement on the ground that extreme weather conditions necessitated early November poll in Himachal while the Gujarat dates were delayed due to the ongoing flood rehabilitation.

Since roads have been washed out, and the relief works began in September, the state government asked for more time to enforce the Model Code of Conduct.
Achal Kumar Joti, Chief Election Commissioner

At the same time, he said that in 2001, the law ministry and the Commission had reached an understanding wherein it was decided that there would not be a gap of more than 21 days between announcement of polls and the date of the notification. This, he said, would mean that the model code will be in place for 46 days.

In the past, when elections to Himachal and Gujarat were announced together, the model code remained in effect for 86 days.

There is no justification to have prolonged periods of model code of conduct.
Achal Kumar Joti, Chief Election Commissioner

Is the Election Commission’s Stand Justified?

If that really be the case, why Manipur had to suffer 60 days of model code of conduct early this year? Elections were announced on 4 January 2017 while polling was on 4 March.

Quraishi punctured this argument saying that the CEC has already clarified that voting in Gujarat will wind up before Himachal results are announced:

If that’s the case, then Gujarat votes will be counted within a week of Himachal....how many days of MCC have you spared for Gujarat?

Joti who became CEC in July this year when incumbent Nasim Zaidi demitted office, was the chief secretary of Gujarat when PM Modi was the state’s chief minister. He retired as chief secretary in January 2013 and in May 2015 he was inducted into the three-member panel as election commissioner.

The EC had come under Opposition attack earlier this year also on the eve of polls in UP and four other states as the government advanced budget session to 1 February to beat the model code, a move winked at by the EC.

Also Read: Gujarat Polls: Go Local Should be the Mantra for Congress

(The writer is a Delhi-based senior journalist. He can be reached @benedict18. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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