Poll announcement-notification gap can exceed 3 weeks
The Election Commission may have explained the delay in announcement of Gujarat polls by citing a 2001 assurance it had given the Supreme Court that there would be a maximum 21-day gap between declaration of dates and issue of notification but the poll body had earlier maintained that this gap would not apply to multi-state, multi-phase elections.
Responding to a petition submitted to the President last year alleging that the EC had violated this assurance with a nearly 50-day gap between simultaneous announcement of polls in four states and a UT — Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry — in 2016, the poll watchdog said the 21-day rule could not be enforced for a state poll, dates for which are announced simultaneously along with those for others as part of a larger round which involves multiple phases too. The schedule of the Kerala polls did not conform to the 21-day gap and was justified by the EC.
“The EC submitted that it was an established convention that assembly polls in states where there is not much of gap in expiry of assembly terms are clubbed,” said an EC official. However, it added that it was not possible or practical to observe the 21-day gap for all states that go to polls together,” the EC officer said. The EC, however, took a different stand while dealing with dates for two states i.e. Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.
Chief election commissioner AK Joti had, while announcing Himachal dates last week, cited the 2001 assurance to the SC to justify delinking Gujarat polls. CEC Joti also cited the ongoing flood relief in Gujarat as a reason. EC sources had later said it was not necessary that counting for the two states would be held on the same day.
“The EC submitted that it was an established convention that assembly polls in states where there is not much of a gap in expiry of assembly terms are clubbed. However, it added that it was not possible or practical to observe the 21-day gap for all states that go to polls together,” said an EC officer.
Ex-CECs contacted by TOI – TS Krishnamurthy, SY Quraishi, HS Brahma and two who did not want to go on the record – agreed that the model code allowed ongoing projects, including those relating to flood relief, to proceed unhindered. “It is ridiculous to suggest that the model code will interfere with disaster relief. It also does not come in the way of rallies and visits by ministers… only that they are restrained from announcing any sops or new schemes,” said Quraishi. He added, “I wish EC had not broken the convention of clubbing polls in states.”Time for Ayurveda-led ‘health revolution’, says Modi
Quraishi and two other CECs said the delayed announcement for Gujarat had disturbed the level playing field, allowing the ruling party to offer pre-poll sops. Brahma and Quraishi, however, insisted the voters were far too smart to be “influenced by this”.
Where is the question of level playing? There is only one player in Gujarat and that is BJP. Rest all going to lose the deposit.
When contacted, EC said while it has always strived to limit the gap between announcement and notification to less than 21 days, a longer model code of conduct in Tamil Nadu and Kerala last year was unavoidable. “Apart from being flood hit, Tamil Nadu had already announced the examination schedule in March-April and the state government made a formal request to EC to hold the polls in May. As Tamil Nadu shares a long border with Kerala, we could not have held polls in the two states separately,” deputy election commissioner
“As for Himachal, all parties had asked for polling by November 15, in a single phase. Considering Gujarat, we took into account the flood situation and the festival season. Since there was no compulsion to hold the Gujarat polls in November and also to keep gap between the announcement and the notification to within three weeks, we held back its announcement. Still, to ensure that the results in one state do not affect results in the other, we said polling in Gujarat would be held before counting in Himachal,” said Sinha.
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