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Gujarat poll dates: EC points to floods for delayed announcement

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on January 08, 2018

Chief Election Commissioner AK Joti (file photo)   -  The Hindu

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Congress accuses BJP of influencing poll panel; ruling party hits back

After immense speculation that the Election Commission was under political pressure from the BJP-led Central government to defer announcement of the Gujarat polls, the EC declared on Wednesday that the State will have 2-phase elections, to held on December 9 and 14.

The poll body said “serious floods” in North Gujarat were the reason why elections for the State were not announced along with those of Himachal Pradesh.

Votes will be counted and results declared on December 18, along with those of Himachal Pradesh. During the first phase of elections, 19 districts and 89 constituencies will go to the polls while in the second phase 14 districts and 93 constituencies will vote. The Model Code of Conduct comes into immediate effect in the BJP-ruled State.

The Commission’s announcement of elections for the 182-member Gujarat Assembly comes nearly two weeks after the poll panel declared dates for the Himachal elections. The delay led to the Opposition raising questions and alleging that it was done to help the Centre announce sops for Gujarat, the home State of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah.

‘BJP is scared’

Soon after Chief Election Commissioner AK Joti announced the poll dates on Wednesday, the Congress said it should have been done earlier.

“The EC should have announced the poll along with Himachal Pradesh elections. They have delayed it to please the BJP. We hope that now the panel will ensure free and fair elections. The BJP is scared of a defeat. We are confident as we get support from all walks of life,” said Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee chief Bharatsinh Solanki.

‘Not Cong’s call’

The BJP hit back with Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley maintaining that the Congress was attacking the poll body because it is the “losing and disgruntled” party in Gujarat.

“Just a couple of weeks ago when the Rajya Sabha elections were held, the Congress was singing praises of the same EC. The EC is not to be browbeaten by a disgruntled and losing political party. The EC is duty-bound to act as per law. Secondly, if in two States, elections are being held at a gap of four to five weeks, isn’t it fair that duration of the length of code of conduct in both the States is similar? To have a 35-day code of conduct in a Congress-ruled State and a 70-day conduct in a BJP-ruled State just because the Congress feels that would be proper, the EC is not bound by it,” said Jaitley.

The MCC debate

Jaitley said the missing point in the debate about election dates for Gujarat is the duration of the Model Code of Conduct and how long it should be stretched. He said since no major decisions can be announced during this period, there has been a considered view that it should be stretched indeterminately.

“So far what has been missing in the debate is that in 2000-01, serious doubts were being cast on whether the MCC was binding. The first NDA government agreed with the Election Commission and both the EC and the Centre got a Supreme Court directive that the Code is binding. When we had subsequent discussions with the EC, it was decided that it couldn’t be an indefinitely long period. The election duration is three weeks and the Code should be a few weeks over and above that. It would be against the spirit of democracy that the Code is stretched over a period of 70 or 80 days,” said the Finance Minister.

‘Floods, reason for delay’

The Commission denied the charges. “The Commission got two letters from the Gujarat Chief Secretary. The letters pointed to the fact that seven districts in North Gujarat were facing floods and that announcing the date could hamper relief efforts. The floods were serious as over 229 persons died in the floods,” Joti said in response to a question on why the dates for polls in Gujarat were not announced with Himachal Pradesh.

Officials said that if elections had been announced earlier, officials involved in relief work would have been pulled away to prepare for its conduct.

The Commission also pointed out that while some political meetings might have been held in North Gujarat to the best of its information, no political rally had been held in that part of the State.

The EC also said it was not the first instance that dates for polls in Gujarat had not been announced when other States were going to polls around the same time.

Published on October 25, 2017

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