At a time when the Congress has accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of pressuring the Election Commission (EC) to delay announcing dates for the Gujarat Assembly elections, former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), SY Quraishi, in a column for The Indian Express explained why non-announcement of Gujarat poll dates invites questions from several quarters.
“There are two sets of questions: Why have the Gujarat dates not been announced? And, why a gap of 39 days between the voting and counting in Himachal Pradesh? Actually, both these questions are interlinked…Both mainstream and social media are abuzz with speculation and snide comments, casting aspersions on the EC. Is it to accommodate some VVIP visit to the state (Gujarat)?” asked Quraishi in his column.
“If the government does announce new populist schemes and freebies, it would cause the EC a huge embarrassment. It would be accused of giving the government of Gujarat the few extra days before invoking the model code of conduct. The hard-earned reputation of the Commission’s ferocious independence could be in tatters, which would be disastrous for our democracy.
“Politicians must remember that their legitimacy comes from free and fair elections conducted by a constitutional body whose own legitimacy is the ultimate guarantor of the credibility of elections. The EC has been fortunate to have established such a reputation not just in India but globally. Hillary Clinton described it as the gold standard. Reputations take years to build but minutes to crash,” the ex-CEC added.
Quraishi lamented the fact that the EC has come under scanner over the issue of announcement of poll dates in Gujarat.
“It’s painful to see aspersions being cast on the Commission, especially the CEC, just because he was a Gujarat cadre officer. How can we forget that the same Commission had covered itself with glory just a month ago in the high stakes Gujarat Rajya Sabha election by asserting its well established independence and neutrality?
“The ruling party and the government would do themselves, the EC and the nation a great favour if no new schemes are now announced, belying the people’s apprehensions. This would shut up the critics who say the delinking of 4-5 days is to enable the government to announce poll sops, beating the model code of conduct,” he wrote.
The Congress has alleged that the EC has not announced the poll dates for Gujarat to allow Prime Minister Narendra Modi to “announce sops” at a mega rally planned in state capital Gandhinagar next week.
On Thursday, the EC announced the date for elections in Himachal Pradesh. Himachal Pradesh will vote on November 9 and election results will be declared on December 18.
CEC AK Joti said that the dates for Gujarat polls will be announced later, however, he added voting will take place before Himachal Pradesh election results are declared.