Civic polls: Gujarat HC shuts escape route for state govt, calls delay 'unconstitutional'
n a major embarrassment to the Anandiben Patel-led Gujarat government, the Gujarat High Court on Wednesday ordered the state Election Commission to start the process for civic polls in the state immediately and asked the state government to provide all security measures.
By Swati Bhan
Ahmedabad: In a major embarrassment to the Anandiben Patel-led Gujarat government, the Gujarat High Court on Wednesday ordered the state Election Commission to start the process for civic polls in the state immediately and asked the state government to provide all security measures.
The civic elections in the state for all major cities, including Ahmedabad and Vadodara, were due in October.
The court termed ‘unconstitutional’ the ordinance of the state government to delay the polls. The court went on to say that the decision of the Election Commission to delay the polls was illegal too.
The Election Commission had suggested that the delay was proposed after assessing the law and order situation. The state has been facing some unrest in the last few months following the agitation for quota by the Patels.
The agitation led by the 22-year-old Hardik Patel had managed to garner support among the youth from the Patel community and there were incidents of violence during the stir. The government had managed to bring it under control after a crack down on the agitators and the arrest of a few Patel leaders. It feared outbreak of caste wars in the state.
Citing these fears, the State Election Commission had argued that the law and order situation in the state was not conducive for elections hence the election should be postponed by a few months.'' The BJP, which at present rules all the corporations, also feared a backlash from the community.
But setting aside these arguments the court has ordered the state Election Commission to start electoral process immediately. The two-bench judge, which was hearing a petition filed on 9 October, was led by acting Chief Justice Jayant Patel.
The petition had challenged the executive order passed to delay the election by three months.
Chief Justice Jayant Patel and Justice J.V. Anjaria also criticized the State Election Commission for toeing the government line that the law and order situation in Gujarat was not conducive for free and fair polls.
The judges directed the poll panel to start preparations for the elections immediately and also turned down the remedy of an appeal before the Supreme Court.
This is the first time since Narendra Modi took charge of Gujarat as chief minister in October 2001 that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sought to postpone any election.
The high court order follows two writ petitions challenging the October 4 ordinance to postpone the elections citing law and order concerns in the wake of protests by the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) demanding job quotas for the Patel community.
The Congress has alleged that the Anandiben Patel government was trying to postpone the elections and pitchfork administrators on the local bodies fearing an electoral backlash from the Patel community.
The terms of six municipal corporations, 56 municipalities and 230 taluka (tehsil) and 31 district panchayats, a majority of which are controlled by the BJP, are expiring between this month and November.
“If elections can be held in Jammu and Kashmir, surely the situation in Gujarat is not worse,” the court said.
It also pointed out that there were no provisions to appoint administrators in the panchayats.
The first petition was filed by Congress legislator Shaktisinh Gohil, in reply to which the State Election Commission had cited the Patel agitation as the reason for wanting to put off the elections.
The poll panel, however, said the elections would be held in December.
Before the high court took a call on this, another petition was filed by Gandhinagar panchayat vice president and Congress member Virendra Vaghela as well as Jagdish Bhatt, a resident of Bhavnagar, calling the October 4 ordinance “unconstitutional and malafide”.
BJP sources told IANS that though the government had crushed Patel leader Hardik Patel’s protests, the party leadership did not want to take chances.
“We might even consider propping up independent Patel candidates in the local body elections to split the vote if Hardik Patel fields candidates,” said a leader requesting anonymity.
(With IANS inputs)
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