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Election panel to announce dates of assembly polls in Gujarat today at 1pm

The timing has been a source of controversy with BJP’s rivals saying the announcement was delayed to give BJP an edge

india Updated: Oct 25, 2017 12:05 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
gujarat elections,gujarat polls,elections 2017
Members of the election commission announce the date for the Himachal polls on October 12. (PTI file)

The Election Commission will announce the dates of assembly polls in Gujarat at 1pm on Wednesday, officials said.

The poll panel has faced criticism for not announcing these dates along with the election schedule for Himachal Pradesh earlier this month. Opposition parties allege that this helped the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to sidestep rules and offer incentives to voters in Gujarat.

The vote is seen as a barometer of support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a time when a sputtering economy has handed the opposition Congress party a possible opening to regain political ground.

The contest in Gujarat, Modi’s home state where the BJP has been in power for 22 years, will also be keenly watched for signs of voter reaction to some of his radical economic policies that made doing business far more complicated and raised the cost of compliance.

The BJP has also been facing angry protests by the state’s powerful Patidar community that has been demanding a quota in education and government jobs. Earlier this month, a new potential embarrassment emerged over the business dealings of Jay Amitbhai Shah, son of BJP chief Amit Shah.

Not that any of this necessarily upsets the BJP’s expected victory in its citadel. The party has been extending its reach across the country, emboldened by a string of state election victories and high public approval for Modi.

But with the economy still reeling from last year’s cash clampdown and the bumpy implementation of the Goods and Services Tax, the party appears to have lost, for the first time since its resounding national victory in 2014, some of its confidence.

For the Congress, the stakes have never been higher. Its vice-president Rahul Gandhi is said to be preparing to take over the party by the end of this month, setting up what could be his first formal leadership test in Gujarat.

Over the past few months, Gandhi has also appeared to recover from a raft of bruising election defeats, displaying a new confidence in his public speeches as well as social media campaigns that has triggered some unease in the BJP.

In Gujarat, the ruling party has announced several incentives for voters, including loans without interest for farmers, jobs for sanitation workers and big ticket infrastructure projects.

As for allegations of being partial to the BJP, chief election commissioner AK Joti has defended his decision to delay the announcement of polls dates for Gujarat, saying multiple factors including weather, flood relief and festivities were considered.

First Published: Oct 25, 2017 10:34 IST