On 12th October’ 2017, the Election Commission of India (ECI) announced dates for the forthcoming assembly elections for Himachal Pradesh. The election process for Himachal Pradesh will commence on 16th October, the day on which the Election Commission issues a notification as regards date of filing nominations, date of polling, date of counting etc. The last date for filing the nomination has been fixed as 23rd October; polling will take place on 9th November and counting on 18th December. With this announcement the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) has come into force with immediate effect.
Unlike previous occasions in 2007 and 2012, when the ECI had declared the election schedules for both Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat on the same day, this time it decided to announce the election schedule only for Himachal Pradesh. The ECI though, said that election process in Gujarat would be completed before 18th December’ 2017 i.e. the date on which counting of votes for Himachal Pradesh would be undertaken.
The Chief Election Commissioner, Mr. A. K. Jyoti in his press conference gave justification for the delay in announcing the date for Gujarat assembly elections on the following grounds:
i) In 2001 the law ministry and the ECI had reached an understanding following which it was decided that there would not be a gap of more than 21 days between the announcement of polls and the date of the notification of elections.
ii) In the past, when elections to the assemblies of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh were announced together, the MCC remained in force for 86 days.
iii) Gujarat government had informed the Commission that it needed time to complete relief work before the model code of conduct was enforced.
iv) The state did not have to endure a prolonged period under the MCC, as it would have hamper development work.
Soon after the ECI announced the dates of Himachal Pradesh assembly elections and did not club Gujarat assembly elections with it; Mr. Randeep Surjewala, in-charge of communications for Congress party, posted his video on Tweeter casting aspersions on the integrity of the ECI and alleged that it was pressurized by the Modi government to defer the Gujarat assembly polls. Mr. Surjewala also posted three tweets repeating the same charges. He further also alleged that ECI did not announce dates of Gujarat assembly elections along with Himachal Pradesh to give an opportunity to PM Modi to announce sops on his forthcoming visit to Gujarat on 16th October.
The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) too issued an official statement expressing surprise at ECI’s exclusion of Gujarat assembly poll dates along with that of Himachal Pradesh. In their official statement the Polit Bureau has stated ‘Usually when elections are due within a period of six months, then states are combined and a joint announcement has been made’.
One may remind the Polit Bureau of CPM that elections in the state of Tripura which is governed by their party, are due in February’ 2018, less than four months from now. Will the government of Manik Sarkar accept the announcement of election dates in Tripura in October’ 2017 with the enforcement of the MCC so early?
There have been precedents in recent past which debunk CPM Polit Bureau’s claims.
In 2013, elections to the assemblies of Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland were due in February and that of Karnataka in May. The ECI announced election dates for the assemblies of Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland on 11th January and enforced the MCC from the same day. The period between the day of announcement and the day of polling was 35 days for Tripura and 43 days for Meghalaya/Nagaland, respectively.
As for Karnataka, announcement was made on 20th March and the period between the day of announcement and the day of polling was 47 days.
Coming back to the demand made by the Congress party of holding elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat simultaneously in the month of November, then they may be reminded that elections for Gujarat assembly in 2002, 2007 and 2012 were held in the month of December only. Also, there are valid reasons for the ECI to hold elections for Himachal Pradesh in the month of November and for Gujarat in the month of December. The reason is the ECI, while deciding the schedule for elections, has to take account of the weather - during winter constituencies may be snow-bound, and during the monsoon access to remote areas restricted. The agricultural cycle, so that the planting or harvesting of crops is not disrupted, is also taken into account.
It is a well known fact that in Himachal Pradesh that in some parts there is a heavy snowfall from mid December onwards and on the other hand in Gujarat in the month of November, harvesting of crops and sowing of Rabi crop takes place. Therefore the demand of Congress party to hold assembly elections for Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat simultaneously in the month of November is not practical.
The main grudge of the Congress and other parties against the ECI is that unlike 2007 and 2012 this time it has not announced the election schedule of both Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat simultaneously which would have resulted in enforcement of the MCC with an immediate effect. If simultaneous announcement was made then it would have caused a gross injustice to the people of Gujarat and also the government of Gujarat state on the following grounds:
- The period between the enforcement of the MCC from the day of announcement to the day of polling would be 29 days for Himachal Pradesh and it would have been at least 56 days for Gujarat had the date was announced simultaneously with Himachal Pradesh.
- This year there have been heavy floods in many parts of Gujarat which have wrecked havoc in many regions. These floods have caused a massive damage to life and property. More than 400 people and 15,000 animals have died. Over50,000 people were seriously injured, many National Highways, State Highways and Panchayat roads have been damaged. Estimated 50,000 cotton farms were damaged and 25% of Kharif crop sowing in Saurashtra and North Gujarat were lost. Central government has announced an interim relief package of Rs. 500 crores. Final relief packages from both the central government as well as the state government can be finalized only after actual losses to lives, properties, highways, roads, crops etc. have been verified. Only after this is done, various schemes and programmes can be formulated and implemented by the government.
If the ECI accedes to the demand of Congress and other opposition parties to announce the dates of Gujarat assembly elections earlier than necessary and enforce the MCC, there will be adverse effects on the following:
1) No work can be started on the schemes for which work orders have already been issued, but actually not started on the field. Work can start only after the completion of election process. Only those schemes where work has actually started can be continued.
2) Fresh release of funds under MPs/MLAs/MLCs Local Area Development Fund of any scheme shall not be made in any area where election is in progress, till the completion of the election process.
3) The processing of beneficiary oriented scheme, even if ongoing, shall be suspended during election period. Further, no fresh release of funds on welfare schemes and works should be made.
To insist on imposing the Model Code of Conduct much earlier than required will be a cruel joke played by the Congress party on the flood victims of Gujarat who need support at this juncture from the state government.
Finally, Congress party which has imputed bias on the functioning of the ECI because the CEC, Mr. A. K. Jyoti in the past worked under then CM of Gujarat Mr. Narendra Modi, needs to look into its own past. Two former Chief Election Commissioners viz. Mr.T. N. Sheshan and Mr. M. S. Gill had joined Congress after they demitted their office. Mr. Sheshan contested Lok Sabha elections against Mr. L. K. Advani in 1999 and Mr. M. S. Gill was elected to Rajya Sabha on a Congress ticket and served as Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs during UPA rule.
Jayesh Mehta @JMehta65
Editor. Bharat Samvad.