THE ELECTION Commission (EC) got caught in a political slugfest on Sunday with Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani accusing the poll panel of acting at the behest of the Congress ahead of the last state elections in 2012.
Rejecting the charge, V S Sampath, who oversaw the conduct of the Gujarat polls as the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) in 2012, called Rupani’s remark “unfair” and “uncharitable”.
According to a PTI report, Rupani, who was speaking at an event organised by India TV news channel in Ahmedabad, said: “In 2012 (Assembly elections), the Election Commission ensured, at the behest of the Congress, that the model code of conduct was in force for a record time to prevent (Narendra) Modiji from working, because of which the state government could not take up development work.”
In 2012, Sampath had simultaneously announced polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh on October 3. The model code of conduct, at that time, was in force for 83 days. Nasim Zaidi and H S Brahma were his colleagues in the Election Commission then.
Defending the poll panel’s decision, Sampath told The Indian Express on Sunday: “The Election Commission follows the highest traditions of independence and has never compromised in its constitutional duties. It’s very unfair and uncharitable to make such a remark after a lapse of five years from the last election.”
Brahma, too, denied that the EC had acted under any influence in 2012. “Yes, the model code of conduct period was long, but it’s wrong to say that we acted under some party’s influence.” Zaidi declined to comment on the matter.
Rupani’s remarks stem from the EC’s controversial break from convention last week as it did not simultaneously announce polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, although the terms of the two state assemblies expire within two weeks of each other.
While former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi had said that the decision raised “serious questions”, the Congress, the leading Opposition party in Gujarat, alleged that the BJP had pushed the EC to delay the announcement.
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The EC normally holds elections together in states where the incumbent governments are completing their five-year term within six months. The poll dates for these states are announced simultaneously.
For instance, earlier this year, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand went to polls together. Their poll schedule, spread over a month from February 4 to March 8, were all announced on January 4. Chief Election Commissioner A K Joti was a member of the EC even then.
Joti told reporters that the Gujarat announcement was delayed to avoid an unreasonably long imposition of the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) in the state. Although he dismissed any link between the Commission’s decision to announce Gujarat polls later and BJP’s Gujarat Gaurav Yatra scheduled on October 16, which Modi is expected to attend, the Congress alleged that the PM was visiting the state “as a false Santa Claus to announce sops and jumlas that he didn’t implement for 22 years.”
Rupani’s remarks on Sunday were in response to Congress’s allegations. “Congress was complaining that the BJP will advance election because of the UP result… we are not interfering in the process of the Election Commission… we are not delaying elections… It is my responsibility to work for the public till the last day. Until the EC declares dates of elections, we will keep working for the public. There is nothing wrong in it. It is our right to work until the dates are declared,” the Chief Minister said.
— With ENS inputs from Ahmedabad