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Court nail in Modi poll plank

New Delhi, Sept. 2: The BJP-led government suffered another setback in the Gujarat standoff as the Supreme Court refused to interfere with the Election Commission’s timetable and expressed its inability to give an early verdict as the Centre wanted.

The court indicated that it agreed with the commission’s proposal for elections in either November or December. (Details on Page 6)

The Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice B.N. Kirpal, dealt another blow to the BJP by hinting that a final ruling will not be delivered by October 2 — four days before a controversial constitutional deadline for reconstituting the Gujarat Assembly.

But the Centre cut a brave front and stonewalled Opposition calls for President’s rule in Gujarat, saying it is “anxiously” awaiting the court’s interpretation of Article 174, which holds that the gap between Assembly sessions should not exceed six months.

Election Commission sources, however, claimed that the court’s observation was a “vindication” of the panel’s stand against early polls.

“The Supreme Court proceedings were meant for laying down a timetable for hearing and this has been done,” said BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley. “The party does not respond to oral arguments during the hearing.”

Law minister Jana Krishnamurthi pitched in, saying: “As far as I am concerned, the court order was not altogether unexpected”. But party sources had earlier indicated that they were hopeful of a quick court verdict on Article 174.

Jaitley’s case was that the Election Commission had no choice but to call for polls in September as the Gujarat Assembly last met on April 6. Six months from then means its term will end on October 6.

But the Congress contested Jaitley’s interpretation of Article 174 and maintained that it applied to two sittings of a live Assembly and not a dissolved House. The Assembly was dissolved on July 23.

While accepting Article 174 in the present context, the poll panel had said its use was circumscribed by Article 324, which gives the commission absolute powers for holding elections.

The ruling BJP at the Centre as well as the state had mounted intense pressure on the commission to schedule polls before October 6. After the commission dashed the BJP’s hopes, the Centre approached the apex court through a presidential reference, which sought three clarifications.

Welcoming the Supreme Court’s observation, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said: “The court has accepted as factual position the situation described by the Election Commission in Gujarat. The court and the commission share the same views in this matter.”

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