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Mystery surrounds Indian election commission over failure to announce dates

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Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram criticized the Election Commission in sarcastic tweets on Friday morning. The former minister asserted that the Commission was helping the BJP by authorizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to distribute “all concessions and freebies.” The BJP has responded by alleging that the Congress was fearful of “the defeat it will suffer in Gujarat”.

The Congress has accused the ruling BJP of pressuring the Election Commission to delay announcing dates for the Gujarat assembly elections. “The EC has intentionally delayed announcement of date(s) for Gujarat elections just to favour Modi, to enable him to make tall, hollow promises to the people of Gujarat,” Delhi Congress chief Ajay Maken told reporters after leading a party protest outside the poll panel’s office in central Delhi on the issue.

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It can be concluded that the Gujarat elections will be a litmus test for both the BJP and main opposition the Congress. It, however, adds the factor of undue influence of the sitting government on state institutions

The BJP has asked ministers and leaders to find time to campaign in Gujarat, signaling a high-pitched campaign that has also sparked whispers of a tough election in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state. The Election Commission announced dates on Thursday for elections in Himachal Pradesh and said the Gujarat elections dates would be announced later, though it did say that they would be held no later than December 18, when votes will be counted for in Himachal Pradesh.

The opposition has said this deviates from the practice of announcing poll 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 BJP faces a formif=dable challenger who was once an ardent supporter, the powerful castes of Gujarat. The Patel community, in particular, has vowed to work for the defeat of the BJP led by its leader Hardik Patel

Chief Election Commissioner AK Joti responded to queries about non-announcement of Gujarat polls by stating that the people of Himachal Pradesh sought polling before harsh winter set in in the hill state while the Gujarat government had requested that it be allowed to finish several relief and rehabilitation works following floods in the state, before the code of conduct was enforced.

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The Gujarat election holds a special weight for the ruling BJP. The current Prime Minister rose to power from the state of which he has been Chief Minister multiple times. Therefore, a home ground status is awarded to Gujarat. However, there are indications appearing that the BJP is fearful of the results of the Gujarat elections this time.

Not only is India facing importunate times such as an economic slowdown caused by Modi’s policies such as demonetization but also Gujarat specific factors. The BJP faces a formidable challenger who was once an ardent supporter, the powerful castes of Gujarat. The Patel community, in particular, has vowed to work for the defeat of the BJP led by its leader Hardik Patel.

The opposition has said this deviates from the practice of announcing poll 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

Traditionally the supporters of Modi, the Patels turned against the BJP after the government refusal to reserve seats for the Patel caste in education and government jobs. The Patels launched an agitation movement for their demands. A large gathering was held in Ahmedabad on 25 August 2015 attended by thousands. Later, there were incidents of violence and arson across the state, resulting in a curfew in several cities and towns.

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Properties and vehicles worth crores of rupees were damaged and destroyed. Despite talks with the government, the agitation recommenced and turned violent again on 19 September. The government announced a scheme which offered scholarships and subsidies to general category students on 24 September 2015 and a 10% quota of spaces reserved for economically backward classes in April 2016. However, the 10% reservation was quashed by the Gujarat High Court in August 2016.

It can be concluded that the Gujarat elections will be a litmus test for both the BJP and main opposition the Congress. It, however, adds the factor of undue influence of the sitting government on state institutions. Such a prospect is worrisome in what is considered a model democracy by the West.