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Poll panel push for President’s rule

New Delhi, Sept. 18: Another bout erupted in the Supreme Court today over the Gujarat polls, with the Election Commission contending that President’s rule was the only way out and the BJP countering that if polls were not held, Narendra Modi would continue as caretaker chief minister.

“Return the (presidential) reference, m’lords, there is nothing in it... imposition of President’s rule is the only way out,” senior counsel K.K. Venugopal said, speaking for the election panel.

“Your lordships, this view of the EC is wholly erroneous and contrary to the constitutional mandate,” countered another senior counsel Arun Jaitley, pushing the case for the BJP.

Venugopal argued that President’s rule should be clamped on October 2, the date by which a new Assembly should have been sworn in. He said the presidential reference should be returned “without giving any opinion” as it had only raised “hypothetical” questions.

But Jaitley pushed for the continuance of Modi as chief minister. “If the legislature of a state stands dissolved and elections are not being held, the requirement of Article 164(4) would not apply,” he said.

This provision stipulates that a minister or chief minister who is not a member of the legislature for six months automatically ceases to be in office at the expiry of that period. In Gujarat, the Assembly has been dissolved.

Venugopal cited several earlier references, which were returned without any opinion. Of them, the most visible one was the presidential reference on Ayodhya.

He said the election panel felt that elections in Gujarat could be held in November-December as rolls had to be revised. There were major errors “due to the migration of a vast chunk of population in the wake of the recent communal riots”, he said.

Jaitley countered: “If the EC is armed with unlimited and arbitrary powers and if the person manning the commission shares or is wedded to a particular ideology, he could, by giving odd directions, cause a political havoc or bring about a constitutional crisis, setting at nought the integrity and independence of the electoral process, so important and indispensable to the democratic system.”

The State of Gujarat concluded its arguments in court today. It contended that the poll panel had a constitutional duty to conduct elections and negation of that was not its job.

It argued that the panel’s powers under Article 324 of the Constitution to conduct polls was subject to the mandate in Article 174 that a gap of six months should not intervene between two Assembly sessions.

Jaitley will continue his argument tomorrow. Congress member Kapil Sibal is scheduled to begin his arguments after that.

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