The move of the Election Commission of not announcing the dates of the Assembly elections to be held in Gujarat, is extremely odd.
Chief Election Commissioner Achal kumar Jyoti announced the poll dates for the Himachal Pradesh assembly that was scheduled to be held alongside the polls in Gujarat. The date by which the poll processes in both states would be complete was also announced. However, the schedule for assembly elections in Gujarat was not disclosed. The long-standing practice of announcing the poll dates together for the assemblies whose terms will expire soon, is what has been violated. Obviously, this deviation has raked up a controversy. The Opposition has come up with a sharp criticism that the Election Commission has pandered to the pressures of the ruling party. Former Chief Election Commissioner has also opined that the move created a ‘ground of suspicion’. The Election Commission has not been able to justify such a deviance from the usual practice. The Himachal Pradesh government had requested the polls to be completed before the onset of harsh winter in the state while the Gujarat government has asked for more time for finishing the rehabilitation and relief works in the flood-hit areas. All these operations would be supposedly stalled if the poll date was announced.
This justification itself seems to establish the criticisms of the Opposition. The Opposition alleges that the reason for not announcing the poll dates for Gujarat was to give an opportunity for Prime Minister Modi who would visit the state on October 16 to announce more ‘sops’. If the dates are announced, the Model Code of Conduct would come into effect and then making appeasement announcements would be against the procedures. However, the Model Code of Conduct would in no way affect the ongoing relief and rehabilitation works. It’s difficult to believe that the Election Commission is unaware of this fact. The Code of Conduct bans new announcements that is capable of influencing the voters. The Election Commission shouldn’t have fallen in the trap of the Gujarat government that asked for more time. Those who are apprehensive of whether the happenings are signs of regressive mentality after T N Seshan completely freed the electoral system from the negative influences of the politicians, couldn’t be blamed. A few misapplying the fact that the current Chief Election Commissioner A K Jyoti served as the Chief Secretary of Gujarat during the tenure of Narendra Modi, might be totally unfair. However, five years ago polls were announced to be on the same date in the states of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. The commission that called a press conference to declare the poll dates in both states, said that the dates for Gujarat assembly polls would be known ‘soon’. What happened all of a sudden? Isn’t this sufficient to raise skepticisms about the credibility of the Commission?
By announcing the date by which the poll process would be completed but refusing to disclose the poll date, the only thing that happens is that the Model Code of Conduct wouldn’t be imposed. It’s not only the appeasement announcements that are made possible. The Ministers could carry out campaign activities under the guise of official programs. Funds could allowed discriminatingly. The commission will not have the complete power to ensure the fairness of elections. In other words, the Election Commission has stopped itself from using its own power. The commission should not only function in an unbiased and just manner but the people should as well be convinced about its operations. Only then will the credibility of the Election Commission and the elections be safeguarded. The commission’s decision has tarnished its own reputation by casting a shadow of doubt on its credibility. Given that the claims of tampering with the electronic voting machines and the demand for paper ballots gain momentum, every move of the Election Commission is crucial. The people expect transparency and justice from them. It was recently that the Election Commission agreed to the directions of Narendra Modi government to conduct the elections to the Lok Sabha and about thirty state assemblies simultaneously. It’s the same commission that says that the poll dates for the two states cannot be announced together. We could only hope that these moves would not undermine the Constitutional institution.