Finally, Gujarat to vote on Dec 9, 14
New Delhi: After facing flak over delinking the schedule from Himachal Pradesh a fortnight ago, the Election Commission on Wednesday announced that Assembly polls in Gujarat will be held on December 9 and 14, asserting that the delay was meant to ensure that relief and rehabilitation work in the wake of devastating floods was not affected.
Declaring the schedule, Chief Election Commission A.K. Joti said the independence and impartiality of the poll panel cannot be questioned on account of the delay which was on account of the flood situation in north Gujarat.
The Election Commission has already announced that the results of the elections for the 182-member Gujarat and 68-seat Himachal Pradesh assemblies will be declared on December 18.
The date of filing of nominations for the first phase of Gujarat polls covering 89 constituencies in 19 districts will be November 14 and the last date will be November 21. The scrutiny of nominations will take place the next day and the last day of withdrawal will be November 24.
In the second phase, covering 93 seats in 14 districts, the nominations will open on November 20. The last date of nominations will be November 27. Scrutiny will be done on November 28 and the last date for withdrawal will be November 30.
The model code of conduct that bars governments from taking policy decisions and announcing new projects came into force immediately in BJP-ruled Gujarat.
Joti was repeatedly asked questions about the opposition criticism of the Commission that it came under government pressure to delay the announcement so that the government could declare new projects for the state before the model code of conduct comes into force.
He maintained that unprecedented rain and floods delayed the announcement because the Commission wanted to ensure that in no way the pace of the rehabilitation work should be hampered.
"The severity of the rain and flood could be guaged from the fact that seven north Gujarat districts, including Ahmedabad, were affected and 229 people lost their lives. It is not a small number. It shows the magnitude of the flood situation... There is no question of connivance with anyone for the delay.
"The Commission always takes decisions on the prevailing situation that is not static but is dynamic. The charge that the Commission had given up its impartiality is not acceptable," he said, adding that even for the Himachal Pradesh government there was time available till October 11 for announcement of new projects.
The schedule for Himachal Pradesh polls was announced on October 12. The hill state votes on November 9.
Soon after the Himachal announcement, the opposition parties had come down heavily on the poll panel alleging that it had given the BJP government in Gujarat and Prime Minister Narendra Modi more time to announce election sops.
The Prime Minister made two visits to Gujarat after the Himachal schedule was declared and announced launching projects worth Rs 3,600 crore in a bid to woo electorate in his home state.
But the poll panel chief denied that the delay had anything political about it.
"The delinking was done because of the flood situation in Gujarat and there was no other special reason," Joti said.
The total number of voters in Gujarat will be 4.33 crore, up from 4.27 crore in the last election. The electors photo identity cards (EPIC) is to the extent of 99.99 per cent. The total number of polling stations will be 50,128 as against 44,579 in the last elections.
Electronic voting machines will be used at all the polling stations along with voter verifiable paper audit trails (VVPATs) under which a voter will be able to see the candidate, the party and the symbol for whom they voted.
"The Commission has already made arrangements to ensure availability of adequate number of EVMs and VVPATs for the smooth conduct of election," Joti said.
BJP confident of Gujarat win, Congress and Young Turks differ
Ahmedabad: Gujarat's Young Turks Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani on Wednesday predicted doom for the ruling BJP in the Gujarat Assembly polls while the BJP said it was confident of bagging a three-fourth majority.
The Congress, the main opposition, said it was determined to come to power in a state where power has eluded it for over two decades.
"We are getting a three-fourths majority, that is 150-plus seats," Chief Minister Vijay Rupani told reporters minutes after the Election Commission announced a two-phase polling in the state on December 9 and 14.
"We are fighting the polls on the development plank and will speak only on nationalism without resorting to casteism or any such thing," he said.
He cited poll surveys to stress that the atmosphere was positive for the Bharatiya Janata Party.
"So far three surveys show that the BJP is winning. Just like in Uttar Pradesh when nobody could predict that we will get 325 seats, the BJP will bag more than 150 seats out of 182 in Gujarat," Rupani said.
He said the Congress was finished and its leadership had "surrendered to three youngsters - Hardik, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani. The way Congress is running after them shows that they have lost".
Congress leader Narendra Rawat said his assessment was completely different.
"The Congress is on the road to victory. All sections of the society are angry and want to throw out the BJP government. Their time is up. They tried to delay the announcement of election dates but that is not going to help," he said.
Patidar leader Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakore and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani ridiculed the BJP's claims.
"I am on a 10-day campaign of which first three days have been successful. We will ensure the BJP loses and have asked the Congress to clarify its stand on reservation to Patels," the firebrand Hardik Patel said.
"If they agree to our demands and explain us how they will do it, we will consider supporting the opposition," he said.
Mevani asserted: "The election dates are bad news for the BJP. We will gift them blood pressure tablets. They are going to need it aplenty. Now it is our time to do the batting. We were eagerly waiting for the dates.
"We will not let BJP enter our community areas. We will do the maximum campaigning against the BJP and the way they have harassed people of Gujarat for the last 22 years," he said.
Calling BJP's development claim "fake", Mevani said it worked only for the interests of a handful of industrialists.
"There is not a single section or class that is happy with the BJP. They also do not keep promises to any community or class. They promised a lot to victims of Una Dalit flogging but nothing was done. They are not even ready to talk to us. What kind of a party is this?"
Thakore, who formally joined the Congress on Monday, said the Congress would win 125 seats. "I wish the BJP all luck if they can stop this."
He said the Congress was prepared like never before. "Our booth level management this time is extremely methodical and there is a strong wave of change in Gujarat," he said.