Guj polls: EC has discredited itself

Guj polls: EC has discredited itself

The Election Commission has done itself a disservice by withholding the schedule for the forthcoming assembly elections in Gujarat while announcing the dates for polling and counting of votes in Himachal Pradesh. The terms of the two assemblies expire within two weeks of each other. It is the commission’s norm and convention to announce poll schedules in such situations on the same day, though the elections may take place on different dates. The polling and counting dates were simultaneously announced for these two states in 2012 and 2007. This time polling in Himachal Pradesh will be held on November 9 and the counting will take place on December 18. But the EC has only said that elections in Gujarat will be held before December 18. The commission’s action has invited criticism from the Opposition, especially the Congress, which has charged it with acting under the influence of the central government and the BJP.

There is no convincing reason for the commission’s delay in announcing the date for Gujarat. So, the charge that it acted under pressure from the government cannot be dismissed as wrong. The model code of conduct comes into operation as soon as the election dates are announced. Governments and their leaders cannot offer any sops to the electorate after the code comes into effect. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is addressing a rally in Ahmedabad on Monday where he is expected to announce a number of sops for the people of the state. The criticism that the EC is sitting on the dates to facilitate this is valid. The explanation that the dates are not being announced so that the ongoing flood relief work in the state is not affected is untenable. The model code does not impede any ongoing disaster relief work. In any case, such work will not be completed before the announcement of the poll schedule.

The Gujarat government has announced many pre-poll sops in the last few days. There is some nervousness in the BJP over the elections as it is felt that its tall claims and expectations about the results may not come true. The Election Commission has allowed the view to gain credence that it has deferred to the BJP’s wishes and served that party’s interests by withholding the poll schedule. This brings discredit to the country’s most important constitutional institution which has gained a strong reputation over the years for its independence and impartiality. It is unfortunate that the commission forgot its duty to ensure a level playing field for all parties and to ensure free and fair elections by resisting pressures from the government or other centres of power.

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