Rejecting allegations that it gave the ruling party an “advantage” by delaying the announcement of assembly elections in Gujarat, the Election Commission of India Wednesday said the state will vote in two phases — on December 9 and December 14 — for 182 seats in the House. Votes will be counted on December 18 along with those for Himachal Pradesh.
Chief Election Commissioner A K Joti told reporters that with the announcement of the poll schedule, the Model Code of Conduct comes into effect immediately in Gujarat.
Hours before the EC announcement, Gujarat rained more sops to beat the model code. In Vadodara, its Mayor laid foundation stones for three government works in the city while his counterpart in Rajkot announced a Rs 95-crore housing scheme for municipal employees and laid foundation stones for two water distribution projects.
In the run-up to the release of the poll schedule, the BJP government in Gujarat has announced several measures to woo the electorate. It has reached out to government employees, farmers, Patidars, women, Dalits, traders, youth, promising jobs, health facilities, water, housing.
The Election Commission said the first phase of voting in Gujarat will cover 89 seats, 2.1 crore voters in 19 of 33 districts of the state. This phase will see polling in Kutch, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Surat among others. Phase two will account for the remaining 93 seats in 14 districts including Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Vadodara. This phase will cover 2.21 crore voters. The poll process will start November 14 with the issue of the gazette notification for the first phase .
The EC’s decision not to impose the model code of conduct in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh on the same day — on October 12, it announced polls for Himachal Pradesh but not Gujarat — drew criticism from several quarters including former CECs. The Opposition Congress alleged that the dates were delayed to give the ruling BJP an advantage.
Joti said that while the two states saw simultaneous polls during the last two assembly elections, elections in Gujarat were held on December 12, 2002 while in Himachal Pradesh, it was on February 26, 2003. He said he would not like to comment on the views of former EC members but his decision was based on the “unprecedented floods” in Gujarat and to ensure relief and rehabilitation work doesn’t slow down because of the announcement of poll dates.
“Whenever the EC takes a decision for finalising election schedules, many factors have to be taken into consideration. One of them is the issue regarding unprecedented rain and floods in Gujarat in July-August 2017. The Chief Secretary of Gujarat had written to us on September 27 and October 2, requesting for more time on account of the adversely affected seven districts in north Gujarat,” Joti told reporters. He said the magnitude of the issue can be seen from the fact that the floods claimed 229 lives in the state and 35 villages had to be relocated.
Told that much of the rehabilitation work in Gujarat had already been completed, Joti said it was mainly short-term relief work that was undertaken within 15 days of the flood. Long-term work with regard to rebuilding the infrastructure was still on, he said.
Joti said the Himachal Pradesh polls had to be held early because there was likelihood of heavy snowfall in late November. “Himachal Pradesh is a hilly state while Gujarat has plains with 1,600 km coastline and desert. Both have different geographical and weather conditions. They are not neighbouring states and there is no commonality. Due to all these factors, we decided to delink the two,” he said.