The poll season is fast nearing and the Election Commission (EC) is gearing up. On Friday, the EC was expected to announce dates for two states – Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat. However, while the dates for Himachal were revealed, nothing was said about the latter.
This came as a surprise as the term of both assemblies ends within six months. In such cases, the convention is that dates are announced together with the results declared on a common day.
So why were the Gujarat elections not announced?
When asked why the EC did not reveal dates for the upcoming Gujarat polls, Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar said it went by the convention set in 2017, when elections to both states were announced separately.
“We are following past precedence in keeping the announcement of dates for Gujarat in abeyance for now,” he declared, adding that holding multiple elections together leads to a longer wait time for the declaration of results.
“There is a gap of 40 days between the end of the assemblies of the two states. According to the rules, it should be at least 30 days so that one result doesn’t impact the other,” Kumar said.
In Himachal, the tenure ends on 8 January 2023 and the Gujarat Assembly term ends on February 18, 2023.
What happened in 2017?
In 2017, the elections for the states were announced on two different dates. While dates for Himachal were declared on 13 October those for Gujarat were revealed on 25 October.
In that year, Himachal Pradesh cast its vote on 9 November and Gujarat voted in two phases on 9 December and 14 December. The results for both states were counted on 18 December 2017.
Back then, EC broke from the norm of not announcing the election dates of the two states simultaneously.
The opposition Congress had then alleged that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was trying to delay the Gujarat Assembly elections for “last-minute efforts” to woo voters with sops announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Former Chief Election Commissioner S Y Quraishi said the decision raised “serious questions”, reports The Indian Express.
Why the change in the convention?
The then Chief Election Officer Achal Kumar Joti defended the 2017 decision saying that this was done to avoid the Model Code of Conduct (MCC) to be imposed for long in the state. The MCC should not exceed 46 days, he had said, adding that flood relief in the state also influenced his decision.
The MCC comes into effect soon after the poll schedule for states is announced. This is a set of guidelines issued by the EC for the conduct of political parties and candidates during elections. It applies to speeches, polling booths, portfolios, election manifestos, processions and general conduct.
Gujarat and Himachal have been holding elections on the same dates since 1988, except in 2002-03. This was because of the Godhra riots, which led to the premature dissolution of the Gujarat Assembly.
Why Himachal elections are being held first?
Weather is one of the reasons why elections in the hilly state are being held first this year. The CEC also said that polls in one state will not affect the other. Himachal will go to vote on 12 November and the results will be out on 8 December.
“There are a number of factors, like the weather. We want to hold the Himachal elections before the onset of snow,” Kumar explained, adding that the poll body had taken the decision after holding consultations with “various stakeholders”.
The MCC will apply to Himachal Pradesh for a fewer number of days – 57 instead of 70, the EC said.
Kumar and Election Commissioner Anup Chandra Pandey visited Gujarat and Himachal in September to review poll preparedness. In Gujarat, they met with district election officials, senior police officers and representatives of national political parties.
With inputs from agencies