Mid-term polls will be held in September and early October, the Election Commission announced today. The exact dates and the notification will be issued later.
The decision to hold the polls towards the end of the monsoon followed chief election commissioner M.S. Gill?s meeting with all parties yesterday. The Congress was elated, as were several other Opposition parties. The muted BJP response was: ?We accept the Election Commission?s decision.?
The model code of conduct, however, does not come into effect now. Only after the dates are announced will the set of ?restraints? on parties become applicable.
In a four-page press note, Gill laid down several reasons for finally opting for a late poll.
Since the Lok Sabha last met on April 22, it is constitutionally imperative for the House to be reconstituted by October 21. The commission says if polls are concluded by early October, there should no difficulty in having the 13th Lok Sabha in place by the October deadline.
The Congress welcomed the announcement. Officially, the party said it had not exerted any pressure on the panel and had suggested late polls to avoid the monsoon, which makes the conduct of elections almost impossible.
Unofficially, joyous Congressmen harped on the fact that delayed polls meant at least 30 to 40 per cent seats more for the party. They feel whatever sympathy Vajpayee may have generated for his government by accusing the Opposition of unnecessarily destabilising his ?performing government? will disappear at the end of a five-month period. The Congress, on the other hand, will have a lot of time to put its organisational mechanism in place and build a massive campaign against the ruling coalition.
The BJP did not want go public with its disappointment. ?June or September, we are going to win,? was the refrain of party spokesman Venkaiah Naidu. He argued that Congress and the communists have given ample proof of their fear about facing the electorate. That is why they wanted polls in September, he said.
The BJP has hinted that it cannot be expected to sit idle. It will not function in a caretaker capacity and continue taking policy decisions. Naidu said his party ?had asked for June, bearing in mind the interests of the country and the concern of the voters?.
The commission argued that the country was experiencing a heatwave, with temperature soaring to around 48 degrees Celsius in some areas. ?The pattern of the monsoon and possible floods later is also a danger,? the panel said. ?The commission cannot instantly and blindly announce a poll schedule,? it added.
Experience has shown that the central police planning requires a minimum of four weeks of repeated and intensive discussions of its working groups.
The panel will have to organise a meeting with chief secretaries and chief electoral officers of the states to find out their views and to make its own arrangements.
?Therefore, the commission?s finalisation of the election schedule follows this intensive effort that takes place over a minimum period of a month,? the panel said.
Besides, the enrolment of new voters has already been taken up and ?has been half done and large numbers have been registered?. Gill said the ?work will be completed on July 21. It has also been indicated to the commission that any aborting of this work, at this stage, can be legally challenged?.
While the poll panel has decided to hold the Lok Sabha polls in September and early October, no decision has been taken on simultaneous Assembly polls in states where they are due either later this year or early next year.
?Now that the Lok Sabha polls have been ordered, the panel has to consult and decide how best to undertake this duty and according to schedule. The question of linking some, or all of them, with the Lok Sabha voting schedule also has to be examined,? it said.
Gill said: ?The crisis leading to another election is not of the commission?s making. The commission?s sole constitutional duty is to ensure the polls are held in good time to enable the Lok Sabha to meet before October 21, 1999.?