Defending its decision to postpone panchayat elections in Gujarat, the State Election Commission told the Gujarat High Court on Wednesday that a “caste-war kind of situation” prevails in the state. The court told the poll panel to “keep in mind” that it is an independent body, and observed that it should work towards “furtherance of democracy”, not “dilution of principles of election”.
Appearing for the poll panel, senior counsel Mihir Thakore told a division bench comprising Acting Chief Justice Jayant Patel and Justice N V Anjaria that if elections are held now, nobody may cast their vote. Referring to the Patidar protests, he said many other communities had also started their own pro-quota protests.
“A sort of caste-war kind of situation is building up in the state,” he said, adding that his information was based on reports from the police and civil administration. Stating that people have put up banners barring political leaders from entering their localities, Thakore said the possibility of politicians being targeted could not be ruled out.
Responding to this, ACJ Patel said: “Keep in mind that you are an independent commission, neither controlled by the state government or anyone else… It is as if you have decided to postpone the elections. You are proceeding like that only… Your privilege should be exercised for furtherance of democracy and not for dilution of the principles of election.”
The bench was hearing a petition filed by two persons from Gandhinagar and Bhavnagar challenging the state government’s ordinance that allowed the poll panel to postpone the polls on the ground that the situation was not conducive for holding free and fair elections.
Earlier, appearing for the petitioner, senior advocate and Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil argued that timely elections are the essence of democracy. Pointing out that the assembly elections were held in 2002, even after the riots, he said: “Today, there is no such problem. Whatever happened was in August.”
Stating that elections could only be postponed in case of a natural calamity — an “act of God”, Gohil said the state government’s ordinance was in violation of the 73rd constitutional amendment on Panchayati Raj.
Advocate General Kamal Trivedi, who appeared for the state government, defended the ordinance and said there were similar provisions for postponing municipal elections. “It was not there for panchayats and we have only added one circumstance to postpone the elections (of panchayats)… By adding one circumstance, we have brought all local bodies at par,” said Trivedi.
“What’s wrong (if) elections are held after three months,” said Trivedi.
The polls for 230 taluka panchayats and 31 district panchayats in the state were slated to be held in October-November this year. However, on October 3, the state government passed an ordinance amending the Gujarat Panchayats Act to empower the state poll panel to postpone the elections. The same day, the poll panel reviewed the law and order situation and decided to postpone the polls by three months.