The Telegraph
Thursday, October 19, 2017

Gujarat date riddle

New Delhi, Oct. 12: The Election Commission today announced the schedule for the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections but desisted from doing so for Gujarat, prompting the Congress to allege pressure by the Centre to gain more time for announcing sops for the Prime Minister's home state.

Himachal will vote in a single-phase election on November 9 and the votes will be counted on December 18, the commission said. For Gujarat, the panel did not announce the specific dates but confined itself to saying the polls would be held "before" December 18.

Only a fortnight separates the expiry of the Assemblies in Himachal (January 7) and Gujarat (January 22).

In 2012, the commission had made the announcement for both Gujarat and Himachal together; while Himachal had a one-day polling on November 4, Gujarat had voted in two phases on December 13 and 17.

As soon as the schedule is announced, the model code of conduct, which bars announcements that can be construed as voter inducements, kicks in - as was the case in Himachal today.

Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala alleged pressure on the panel and added: "The reason is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is going to Gujarat on October 16 as a false Santa Claus to announce sops and jumlas that he didn't implement for the last 22 years. The onus lies on the EC to ensure a level playing field."

A.K. Joti, the chief election commissioner and a former chief secretary of Gujarat, said: "The Gujarat chief secretary has written to us saying that relief and rehabilitation work is still going on for the July floods in which 220 people were washed away. In many parts, damage assessment has still not been done.... The model code of conduct cannot be there for 83 days.... There are 17 breaches in the Narmada main canal."

The poll panel chief cited another reason.

Joti said: "Gujarat poll schedules are not announced right now due to the existing rules on time limit (46 days) for holding elections. But it will take place before December 18 to ensure that Himachal Pradesh election results do not impact the Gujarat elections."

From the first day for filing nominations, the commission is bound by law to conduct the poll within 25 days. However, the time between the declaration of the schedule and the beginning of nominations is kept at 21 days under convention. The 2012 Gujarat polls, for instance, were announced on October 3 but took place between December 13 and December 17, more than 60 days later.

The poll panel chief said "every party wanted polling in Himachal before mid-November as snowfall begins in some areas of the hill state after that". He said counting had been delayed by over a month in Himachal to ensure that the outcome did not affect the political processes in Gujarat.

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