Chief election commissioner Rajiv Kumar, who unveiled the Gujarat poll schedule 19 days after announcing elections in Himachal Pradesh, said counting for both states will be held simultaneously on December 8. TOI had reported on October 15, a day after the Himachal polls were announced, that the long gap between November 12 polling and December 8 counting in Himachal Pradesh was ample indication of an impending announcement of Gujarat polls, with polling likely to be completed in time for counting alongside Himachal on December 8.
Over 4.9 crore electors, including 4.6 lakh first-time voters aged 18-19; 10,460 centenarians and 1,417 third gender voters (who have doubled since 2017), are eligible to elect their representatives from Gujarat’s 182 assembly seats, of which 89 will go to polls on December 1 and the remaining 93 on December 5. The model code of conduct has come into immediate effect in the state.
In 2017 too, Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat polls were announced on different days — the former on October 12, 2017 and the latter a week later on October 25. The EC, then led by CEC A K Joti, faced criticism for departing from the convention of clubbing polls in states with closely-timed expiry of their assemblies and, in the process, facilitating last-minute poll sops by the party in office. The EC had then explained the delayed announcement in respect of Gujarat by citing the state government’s request to allow more time for flood relief without restrictions imposed by the model code.
On Thursday too, Congress sought an explanation from EC on the 19-day gap between announcement of polls in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, particularly as counting was to be held the same day, alleging that this had allowed time for BJP to hold rallies, including those addressed by the PM, on government expense. Responding to the criticism, the CEC insisted that EC, while deciding on poll timing, had to balance multiple factors like the weather (Himachal getting snow-bound by mid-November), last date of the term of the assembly (term of Gujarat assembly is expiring over a month after Himachal and the results will be announced with 72 days to spare), the number of days the model code of conduct is in force (this time the duration in Gujarat will be 36 days, which is almost on par with the MCC period during 2020 Delhi assembly polls) and the Morbi tragedy as EC waited in view of the mourning.
Brushing aside allegations of bias, Kumar said that “actions and outcome actually speak louder than words”. “Assembly election results have shown at times that those who are critical of EC have got surprising results…There were instances when a party that filed long complaints with EC about EVMs during polls, ended up winning the polls with those very EVMs. The results are testimony to the impartiality of elections. This is a legacy upheld by all our predecessor commissions. EC will continue to show that it is 100% impartial,” he said underlining how the panel’s leadership in guiding election integrity is accepted the world over when there is talk of “democratic recession or backsliding” in many countries due to fake news and negative campaigns around polls.
The CEC said it will work with various law enforcement agencies — the state police, excise department, GST department, DRI, income tax department, ED, RBI, CISF and RPF — to ensure inducement-free polls. Also social media teams will be deployed at the district level to keep a watch on fake news with an aim to curb its circulation in time.