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The Election Commission’s decision not to announce simultaneous assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh was an “avoidable controversy”, former Chief Election Commissioner T S Krishnamurthy told The Indian Express Monday.
Krishnamurthy, who headed the poll panel from February 8, 2004 to May 15, 2005, is the second former CEC, after S Y Quraishi, to question the delay in announcing the Gujarat poll dates. Qureshi had said that the move to break from the EC’s convention of announcing elections together in states where incumbent governments are completing their terms within six months had raised “serious questions”.
While the Gujarat assembly’s term ends on January 22, 2018, it is January 7 in the case of Himachal Pradesh. Last week, Chief Election Commissioner A K Joti announced the election date only for Himachal Pradesh.
“All this controversy could have been avoided with better management,” 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.”
Joti had cited relief and rehabilitation of the flood-affected in Gujarat as one of the factors that influenced the decision to delay poll announcement in the state. Unconvinced by this argument, Krishnamurthy said, “The emergency flood relief work is to be 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 during the MCC period.”
The MCC is a common code that aims to provide a level-playing field to all contesting candidates during election season by guiding the conduct of the incumbent government, political parties and candidates.
Another ex-CEC, who did not wish to be identified, recalled the Commission’s stand in 2015 to go ahead with elections in Jammu and Kashmir, even though the state government wanted the poll panel to delay announcement because of the devastation caused by floods. “Are you telling me that the Gujarat floods are worse than what J&K experienced?” he asked.
As for the argument that an unreasonably long imposition of the MCC should be avoided in any state, another former Commission chief said: “All state governments are elected for a term of 60 months. Why is it that they feel to undertake all developmental work at the fag end of their term? The MCC is imposed to ensure that the party in power cannot misuse its position to win an election and there is nothing wrong in that.