Most Indian newspapers, including almost all English language newspapers, today carry a story that starts something like this: "Here is why EC did not announce dates for Gujarat assembly elections." All these news reports have dutifully reported the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) A K Jyoti's reasoning that the delay was because the Election Commission was worried about the state's welfare.
Jyoti said "there is no justification to have a prolonged period of the imposition of model code of conduct as it could hamper development work," and quoted a 2001 precedent when the law ministry and the EC had reached an understanding not to allow a gap of more than 21 days between the announcement of polls and date of notification for elections.
Clearly, it is Jyoti's case that the delay was not to accrue any undue benefit to the BJP, as was being alleged by the opposition.
Clearly, the CEC's explanation fell far short of being convincing, as the accompanying Punjab Today story shows. The EC must understand that it has become a key conduit for ensuring peaceful democratic transition.
Just a day before Jyoti fell back on the 2001 precedent, saner voices had cautioned the EC to clear the air since its reputation was at stake.
The Indian Express, in its editorial a day before (on October 14), had pointed out this breaking of "established convention" and said the EC, "in making a routine decision appear controversial...does itself injustice."
"For the EC now to lay itself open to questions about the Gujarat poll delay...is enormously troubling for its several admirers...The EC must answer the questions raised by its decision not to announce the Gujarat polls alongwith Himachal’s more convincingly than it has done so far — because it has a very fine reputation to protect," it had said.
Clearly, the CEC's explanation fell far short of being convincing, as the accompanying Punjab Today story shows. The EC must understand that it has become a key conduit for ensuring peaceful democratic transition. Unlike its Pakistani counterpart, the Election Commission of Pakistan, which is now going about ordering the arrest of the country's top opposition leader on grounds of contempt, we can still question India's Election Commission. Unless it wants to break yet another tradition.
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