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Gujarat debate thrown open

New Delhi, Aug. 26: Elections in Gujarat literally became a national issue today with the Supreme Court issuing notices to all state governments and major political parties on the presidential reference seeking clarifications on the Election Commission’s decision against calling immediate polls.

Notices have been sent to all state advocates-general and the Election Commission, too.

A five-member Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India B.N. Kirpal decided to cover all states as the question involved elections to an Assembly.

The six parties with “national political party status” shortlisted for the notices are the Congress, the BJP, the CPM, the CPI, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

When solicitor-general Harish Salve, appearing for the Centre, contended that the Gujarat Assembly had to be reconstituted by October 2 under Article 174, the judges said: “You don’t worry about that for the time being. We will work out a time schedule for hearing of the reference on Thursday.”

All five parties but the BSP — its lawyer was not present — accepted the notices through their counsel. Finding that the BSP had been issued the notice, some regional parties pleaded that they, too, be given a chance to address the court on such an important reference. But the court declined the prayer, saying proceedings would be further delayed. “Then it will be difficult to control the proceedings,” Kirpal said.

The Centre had taken recourse to a presidential reference after the Election Commission refused to give in to its demand for polls in October.

The BJP had contended that as there could not be a six-month gap between two sittings of an Assembly under the Constitution, the commission was bound to call elections in early October. The Gujarat Assembly had last met in April.

However, legal experts differ on the matter. According to former Delhi High Court chief justice Rajinder Sachar, the six-month clause was valid only for an existing Assembly and could not be applied to Gujarat as chief minister Narendra Modi had recommended dissolution in July.

Hence, no constitutional problem would be set off even if elections are held in January. This is also the stand of the Election Commission.

This is the first time the President has referred such a matter to the Supreme Court.

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