Former poll panel chief slams delay in Gujarat poll dates

Former Chief Election Commissioner T S Krishnamurthy has termed the Election Commission's decision to announce the poll schedule for Himachal Pradesh but not for Gujarat as an "avoidable controversy".

Krishnamurthy, who headed the Election Commission from February 2004 to May 2005, said the two poll-bound states should have seen assembly elections within weeks of each other, and the controversy could have been avoided with "better management".

In an interview with The Indian Express, Krishnamurthy said, "I suppose they could have announced both (Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh polls) together, either one week before or one week after. I am not looking at whether the decision was influenced or not. I am concerned with whether, administratively, a solution could have been found. I think I would have found a solution."

The Election Commission had earlier this month announced that Himachal Pradesh would go to the polls on 9 November, but didn't give any dates for Gujarat, the term of whose assembly also ends in January 2018.

Chief Election Commissioner A K Joti had said besides the non-availability of central forces and the festive season, the Gujarat government had also told the commission that several relief and rehabilitation works were on in the state following the July floods.

But, Krishnamurthy told The Indian Express that the model Code of Conduct wouldn't have impacted relief and rehabilitation work. "Emergency flood relief work is done by bureaucrats, not politicians. The model Code of Conduct does not stand in the way of any emergency relief work. It does not prevent existing projects from continuing. Only new projects should not be announced," he said.

After the announcement was made, opposition parties have slammed the EC and accused the Gujarat government of unduly influencing the commission.

The Congress had said the delay in announcing Gujarat assembly election schedule was to enable Prime Minister Narendra Modi to "act as a fake Santa Claus" to offer sops and use jumla (rhetoric) during his visits to his home state.

"It is now clear that the Modi government and the BJP are putting pressure on the EC to defer announcement of Gujarat election to suit their political ends," Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala has alleged.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) said in a statement, "It is strange that the Election Commission has announced the date for the Himachal Pradesh Assembly elections while withholding the announcement of the date for the Gujarat Assembly elections."

The Left party added, "Usually when elections are due in multiple states, within a period of six months, the EC decides to combine dates for these states, and a joint statement is issued declaring the dates. This has been the practice followed so far."

The EC has, however, said the Gujarat polls will be held before results of Himachal Pradesh elections are declared on 18 December. The CPM said this was even stranger. "If the Gujarat Assembly elections are to be completed before 18 December, then the Model Code of Conduct must be applicable to that state as well," the CPM politburo said.

Pavan K Varma, national general secretary of NDA ally JD(U), said on Monday that "credible answers were needed" following the EC's decision to announce the poll schedule for one state and not for the other. "The EC must not only be impartial but seen to be so. Why have the dates for Gujarat elections not been announced? We need credible answers," said Varma.

The JD(U) quickly distanced itself from Varma's comments, saying they weren't the official party stand on the issue.