An Election Commission of India team led by Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar and Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey arrived in Gujarat on a two-day visit on Monday, even as BJP state chief CR Paatil indicated at a page committee meeting of the party in Anand that the election process may be “completed by November end”.
Assembly elections are due in Gujarat in December when the term of the 14th Legislative Assembly ends.
In its last visit to review poll preparedness, before election dates are announced, the ECI team held a meeting with district election officials from 33 districts and senior police officers with regard to law and order situation in the state. The team also met representatives of national parties in Gujarat. On Tuesday, the team will meet chief secretary Pankaj Kumar and DGP Ashish Bhatia.
Speaking at the page committee meeting, Paatil said, “I feel that the (Gujarat) elections will be completed by the end of November. In 2012 and 2017, the elections were held from December 5. But this time, they may be advanced by about 10-12 days is what I feel. No one has told me this and I haven’t spoken to anyone… The media will say I declared the election dates but I don’t have that power.”
Even as there has been talk about advancing the elections by “two weeks” as a top government official told The Indian Express, the BJP Monday submitted a 23-point memorandum to the ECI, urging it to “consider that the months of November and December are meant to be the most auspicious for weddings in the state of Gujarat”, while deciding on the polling dates.
The BJP handed out a list of suggestions to the EC that included request to exempt party candidates from “accounting for costs” pertaining to security arrangements of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who will be part of the poll campaign in the state.
The memorandum states, “The expenses pertaining to the helipad, barricading, stage construction and security of PM Modi as well as other star campaigners, as will be decided by the various security agencies of the country, and not by the organisers of the campaign rally in the state. Therefore, these expenditures should not be counted as part of the candidate’s election expenses. Instead, the expenditure for the same should be incurred by the party.”
The Gujarat Congress, in its memorandum to the EC, sought that elections in South Gujarat and Saurashtra be held in a single phase, to avoid duplication of voters.
Congress representatives said this was necessary as many residents from Saurashtra live and work in Surat and adjoining areas in South Gujarat. The Congress also sought that elections of North Gujarat and Ahmedabad be clubbed for the same reason.
BJP general secretary Bhargav Bhatt said that the party’s request to the ECI was to consider that the polling dates may not clash with the most auspicious dates for weddings.
Bhatt told this newspaper, “Elections in Gujarat are always held during November and December. The intention behind the party suggesting the ECI to consider that it is wedding season in Gujarat is for appropriate planning… For several years, the ECI, administration and all stakeholders have been working hard to ensure high voter turnout. Considering these aspects will help ensure high voter turnout… If the elections are slated for auspicious wedding days, it could affect voter turnout…”
The BJP memorandum to the ECI, handed over by party vice-president Gordhan Zadafia and election legal cell convener Parindu Bhagat, also states that the ECI should “free the valuables including cash and election items” seized from individuals during raids by the flying squads during previous elections and also declare a Standard Operation Procedure (SOP) for cash seizure during elections.
Bhagat told The Indian Express, “We have made very positive suggestions to the ECI. There have been instances when the (flying squads) have seized cash from women, who were not even directly involved in political activity, while they were on their way to jewellery stores and so on… There should be an SOP in place. Similarly, we have said that senior citizens and physically challenged persons should be allowed to cast ballots from home…”
Regarding the declaration of elections, Bhagat said that the “power lies with the ECI” to announce the dates and the Model Code of Conduct will be implemented with “immediate effect” after the announcement.
In the memorandum, the Congress asked the ECI to weed out duplicate voters from electoral rolls and the party also said it had cited 6,784 duplicate names in Mehsana assembly constituenty in their earlier communication to the ECI. The party also demanded district-wise list of duplicate names found in electoral rolls.
The Congress party, represented by three leaders, also requested ECI to “physically” handover the VVPAT slip to the voter, before it is dropped into a box.