The Election Commission finally announced the election dates for Gujarat on Wednesday.
However, that did not spare the poll panel from questions asking for the reason behind the delay in announcing the dates for the poll-bound state. The Commission's announcement of elections for the 182-member Gujarat Assembly comes 13 days (12 October) after the poll panel declared dates for the Himachal Pradesh—a Congress-run state—elections.
Chief Election Commission AK Joti said that the delay was due to the unprecedented rains in the poll-bound state. Joti had said that several factors were taken into consideration. "The chief secretary of Gujarat sent us two letters, one on the 27th of September and the second on 2nd of October, detailing the magnitude of the (flood) problem," he said. "It's an unprecedented situation in which 229 people died."
The EC came under immense criticism when poll dates for Gujarat were not announced, with the Opposition parties, especially Congress, alleging that the delay was to help the BJP announce sops for Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah.
The Opposition said this deviates from the usual norm of announcing election dates together for states where elections are due around the same time. The terms of the present Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh Assemblies end two weeks apart.
The reasoning provided by CEC Joti for the delay doesn't hold up as reports claimed that flood-relief work ended August-end. The flood-affected areas included Banaskantha, Patan, Mehsana, Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad and Sabarkantha. Between 22 July and 5 August, floods killed 229 people and affected over 10 lakh.
Principal secretary (revenue) Pankaj Kumar, who was overseeing relief and rescue operations in flood-affected areas in Gujarat told The Times of India that by 9 August, 643 of the 650 damaged roads had been opened in Banaskantha and Patan districts. Also, all 202 community and primary health centres in the two districts were operational by 9 August.
"By 17 August, household assistance was given to 55,647 families, while animal death compensation was paid to 6,700 eligible cases and Rs 109 crore assistance was disbursed in Banaskantha Dhanera town in Banaskantha, one of the worst-hit returned to normalcy within a fortnight, Kumar tweeted on 13 August."
The Times of India quoted several people involved in the rescue operations in the flood-affected areas who said that most of the rehabilitation and rescue work was over by August-end.
Meanwhile, Gujarat's relief commissioner AJ Shah told NDTV that no letter was sent from his department to the Election Commission mentioning flood-relief work.
"No letter went from my department to the Election Commission mentioning flood relief work," he was quoted saying.
Any such request to the EC would have to be routed through Shah, who is the nodal officer, the report further noted.
Meanwhile, BJP showered Gujarat with sops
Several reports in the past ten days have claimed that in the meantime the BJP-led Centre and the Gujarat government have showered the state with slew of sops to "appease" many communities ahead of the announcement of the election dates were announced.
In fact, Modi has visited the poll-bound state three times in October to launch several ambitious projects.
From Wednesday, with the formal announcement of election on 9 and 14 December, the Model Code of Conduct kicks in for all political parties, and the sitting government is barred from announcing any new projects, which can influence the ruling party's poll prospects.
Interestingly, on Tuesday, the Vijay Rupani government effected a hike of 50 percent in the incentive paid to Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA), village-level women workers who are a key component in the implementation of National Rural Health Mission (NRHM).
Making the announcements, deputy chief minister Nitin Patel said the hike would benefit around 40,000 women who work as health activists across the state. ASHA workers have been agitating in different parts of the state for quite some time demanding a pay hike and other benefits. Each ASHA worker gets around Rs 2,500 per month for carrying out various health-related tasks.
For farmers, Patel said that the government will waive off 18 percent Goods and Service Tax (GST) charged on the purchase of equipment meant for drip or sprinkler irrigation.
One of the major reliefs to farmers came on 16 October when Rupani declared interest-free loans for farmers in the presence of Modi. "Farmers are now exempt from paying 18 percent GST charged on the purchase of various equipment for drip and sprinkler irrigation. The burden of the tax would be borne by the government in order to promote such irrigation methods," said Patel.
Reports also said that sops announced by the Modi government at the Centre and Rupani government have touched nearly every segment of the electorate: Government employees, farmers, Patidars, women, Dalits, traders, youths and covered issues such as jobs, health and water availability. Freebies were raining in Gujarat since 12 October: The day poll panel announced dates for Himachal.
The government announced 20 such sops for Patidar stronghold Saurashtra. The Patels under young turk Hardik Patel have been demanding reservation in education and jobs for the past two years.
Last week, Modi inaugurated the first phase of the Rs 615 crore-worth roll-on roll-off (Ro-Ro) ferry service connecting Saurashtra with south Gujarat. Modi termed the ferry service his "dream project" and claimed it is the first of its kind in Southeast Asia.
Modi also laid the foundation stone for Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd's MDPL capacity expansion and PVPL extension project at Vadodara. The project would cost Rs 1,879 crore, out of which Rs 1,769 crore will be invested in Gujarat. The project is slated for completion by June 2020.
Modi dedicated a Rs 100 crore city command and control centre in Badamadi Garden, a Rs 125-crore Janmahal city transport hub and multi-level parking (under PPP), a Rs 160 crore multi-modal city transport hub, and Rs 267 crore waste-to-energy processing plant in Vadodara.
The other projects are a Rs 166 crore water treatment plant, two flyovers collectively worth Rs 265 crore, a Rs 55 crore deer safari park, and a Rs 6 crore veterinary hospital. A report in The Indian Express said that since 12 October, the Gujarat government has taken several decisions assuage the Patels.
"Important among them was withdrawal of criminal cases registered against more than 150 Patidars during the 2015 quota agitation. At the same time, the BJP government appointed Hansraj Gajera of Khodaldham Trust, the influential Leuva Patidar organisation, as the chairman of Gujarat State Non-Reserved Class Commission."
More freebies/sops announced:
The government increased the annual income limits of families who can avail welfare schemes under the Social Justice and Empowerment Department and the Tribal Development department.
Families earning Rs 1.2 lakh annually in rural areas—earlier income limit was Rs 47,000—and Rs 1.5 lakh in urban areas (earlier limit was Rs 68,000) can now avail various schemes. This change in income limit is expected to benefit over 2.5 lakh more beneficiaries at a cost of Rs 56.63 crore.
Phase-II of the Ahmedabad Metro rail project was also approved by the Rupani government.
On Monday, the government also announced the much-awaited appointments to various vacant posts of various boards and corporations in a bid to woo communities. The most striking appointment was that of rebel MLA from Congress who defected to BJP, Balwantsinh Rajput. After his loss in the Rajya Sabha elections, he has been given a key position of chairperson of the Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation.
Besides him, the government also filled crucial positions of chairpersons of the newly-formed Gujarat Rajya Bin Anamat Varg Aayog (Gujarat Non Reservation Category Commission) and the Gujarat Rajya Bin Anamat Varg Shaikshanik ane Arthik Vikas Nigam, (Gujarat Non Reservation Category Educational and Financial Development Corporation).
These bodies were formed after the BJP government's negotiation with the Patidar social and religious institutions and leaders, along with Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) and other agitating groups. These positions were given obviously to Patidar faces, Hansraj Gajera and BH Ghodasara.
With inputs from agencies
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Nov 24, 2017 17:14:44 IST