How BJP-led Gujarat govt prepares to make the most of delay in assembly polls
Some experts say Election Commission’s move to hold off on poll dates raises doubts on simultaneous polls.GujaratElection2017 Updated: Oct 15, 2017 10:16 IST
The BJP-led government in Gujarat is preparing to make the best of the opportunity offered by the Election Commission’s (EC) decision to defer the announcement of election dates.
The state government, which already announced infrastructure and social welfare projects worth Rs 12,500 crore in October, is set to declare more schemes by the time the EC announces dates, bringing in force the model code of conduct (MCC).
On Thursday, the commission announced the poll date for Himachal Pradesh but chose not to fix the Gujarat election schedule. The EC’s decision, which has raised many eyebrows, was taken in deference to the Gujarat government’s plea that it needed more time to wind up ongoing relief and rehabilitation works undertaken after an “unprecedented flood” hit the state in July.
The EC, however, clarified that polling would be completed in Gujarat before December 18, the date of counting of votes in HP. “It is an avoidable controversy,” said former election commissioner TS Krishnamurthy.
The former CEC said the commission could have deferred the Himachal election by a week despite the possibility of inclement weather. “Besides, the MCC does not prevent relief and rehabilitation work that can be carried out by the bureaucrats without the interference of the politicians...” he said.
Official sources in Ahmedabad said inauguration of Rs 550 crore ferry service connecting the two shores of the Bay of Khambhat and the launch of the Garib Kalyan Mela in districts such as Porbandar, housing for the poor, and self-employment kits are in the offing the next week.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah will address a meeting of party workers in Ahmedabad on October 16. The PM’s scheduled speech ahead of the announcement of election dates has raised expectations in his home state.
On Friday, the Vadodara Municipal Corporation announced it would hold an event in which chief minister Vijay Rupani will announce projects worth Rs 800 crore.
Political watchers say the commission that won accolades for its tough stance during the recent Rajya Sabha poll in Gujarat needs to offer a more detailed explanation for not announcing poll dates for Gujarat.
“I think there is a need for the commission to give a more comprehensive and comprehensible explanation for the decision. I have faith in the commission, but in this case more explanation is called for,” Jagdeep Chhokar of the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) said.
The commission, he said, is answerable to the Constitution and through it to the people. “The commission has to not only be fair but also appear to be fair; in this case, the decision appears to be under a cloud,” Chhokar told Hindustan Times.
Sanjay Kumar, director of the Center for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), a Delhi-based think tank, described the decision as “very unusual” and “indicative of pressure on EC”. He said it also questions the EC’s claims of preparedness for conducting simultaneous polls for the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, an idea the PM has been pushing for.
“In this case it was a small challenge (completion of work); tomorrow it could be bigger constitutional challenges. How does the commission that cannot hold simultaneous elections for two states, assert that it can hold synchronised polls for the whole country?” Kumar questioned.
Constitutional expert Subhash Kashyap, however, defended the EC’s decision, pointing out that it was entitled to take into account the Gujarat government’s request.
He said the EC’s powers to take a call on the election schedule do not mean that it cannot consult the administration on logistical issues. “The commission needs security forces, and administrative staff to hold elections. If a state government informs them about difficulties on the ground, the EC has to look at practical considerations,” he said.