The state election commission (SEC) buckled under pressure from the Union government and postponed the announcement of the civic body polls schedule earlier this week, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal alleged on Friday, as he asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to “cancel” the elections, saying the country’s values should not be “infringed upon at any cost”.
“The EC buckled under pressure and said it is deferring the polls. This is the first time in Indian history that the central government has directly written to the EC asking it to defer elections for any reason,” Kejriwal said during a media address, as he appealed to state election commissioner SK Srivastava to reveal what “threats” or “pressures” he was allegedly being subject to.
Senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including Union minister Smriti Irani, hit back at Kejriwal, and accused the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government in Delhi of allegedly depriving the city’s three municipal corporations of ₹13,000 crore allotted for the payment of sanitation workers and to maintain parks.
SEC officials, meanwhile, clarified that the civic body polls had neither been deferred nor postponed and added that only the announcement of the election dates had been pushed back by “a few days”.
A media conference on Wednesday during which the SEC was expected to announce the date for the municipal elections in Delhi took a dramatic turn after the poll body said it had decided to defer the announcement of the schedule for the crucial elections, and cited a letter from the Centre which ostensibly mentioned a possible unification of the city’s three civic bodies.
Kejriwal said that the poll body’s authority would be undermined if the elections were cancelled.
“Was he [state poll body chief Srivastava] threatened by the ED [Enforcement Directorate], CBI [Central Bureau of Investigation], Income Tax department or did he face some bigger threat? He is supposed to retire in April. Was he lured with some post-retirement roles to be compromised in such a manner? How could he agree to postpone elections within just one hour?,” Kejriwal said.
The BJP knows there is an AAP wave in the country and that they will lose the elections, Kejriwal said, a day after his party swept the Punjab assembly, brushing aside other parties in the agrarian state as it secured 92 of 117 seats in the House.
“I appeal to the Prime Minister with folded hands to not cancel the elections, since this will pose a huge threat to our democracy. Leaders like Kejriwal or the Prime Minister are not important. What matters is this country, its people, and its values which should not be infringed upon at any cost,” Kejriwal added.
The AAP chief said that the SEC move has raised concern among the people of Delhi. “They have started to worry about their democratic systems even while being the residents of the national capital. They want to know why the BJP-led central government did not merge the MCDs in the last seven or eight years of being in power. They want to know the reason behind such a cowardly move one hour before the election declaration,” said Kejriwal.
“Even if the elections are conducted now, after the unification of the MCDs the 272 councillors of the three MCDs can sit together,” Kejriwal said.
Kejriwal said he was concerned if a political party in the future sought to cancel parliamentary elections because it wants to change the parliamentary system to a presidential one.
“Can we as citizens let elections be cancelled because the ruling party wants to merge two states before their elections?” Kejriwal said.
Hitting back at Kejriwal, Union minister for women and child development Smriti Irani said, “… Does he know that the Nagar Nigam [municipal corporations] had sought reforms last year? Delhi government has purposely deprived MCD employees of ₹13,000 crore. Kejriwal chooses to starve the funds of Nagar Nigam.”
“A leader who gets fewer votes than NOTA in UP, lost deposit on 55 of the 70 seats in Uttarakhand claims there’s AAP wave,” she added.
An SEC official, contradicting Kejriwal said, “The poll announcement was postponed for some days because we received a communication from the Centre, stating that it has plans to unify the three municipal corporations. We decided to postpone the announcement of the poll schedule. We are taking legal opinion on the matter. It is wrong to allude that the MCD polls have been postponed. The MCD elections have to be completed before May 18, so we still have time. The election process normally takes about 30 days and hence the commission has sufficient time to conduct the elections well before the expiry of the term of the corporations.”
Prof Tanvir Aeijaz, an associate professor of Political Science at Ramjas College, said the SEC was not obliged to follow communications from the central government.
“The elections to the municipalities are constitutionally vested in SEC, wherein it, as an autonomous constitutional body, has the powers to superintend, direct and control the conduct of local body elections. SEC, technically, is not obliged to follow the communications from the centre vis-a-vis elections of the municipalities, as the local government, particularly powers of municipal corporation, is a state subject. However, in the case of Delhi, due to multiplicity of authorities, the power to reorganise civic bodies rests with the centre. But in no circumstance, the centre can transgress into the powers of SEC, as it would be a violation of the (Constitution’s) federal principles.”