The Election Commission announced on Thursday that there would be two-phase assembly elections in Gujarat on December 1 and 5. This set the stage for a three-cornered race in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state, with the BJP aiming for its seventh straight victory, the Congress hoping to keep the support of important constituencies that have backed it, and the Aam Aadmi Party entering the race with an aggressive pitch to make electoral inroads in a third state after Delhi and Punjab and emerge as the primary opposition.
The counting for both states will take place simultaneously on December 8, according to Gujarat’s chief election commissioner, Rajiv Kumar, who unveiled the Gujarat election schedule 19 days after announcing the Himachal Pradesh election. The Gujarat elections are expected to be announced soon, and polling is likely to be finished in time for Gujarat to be counted alongside Himachal on December 8, according to a report from TOI published on October 15—a day after the Himachal elections—which noted that the long gap between the November 12 voting and December 8 counting in Himachal Pradesh was a clear indication of an impending announcement.
In Gujarat’s 182 assembly seats, 89 of which will be voted on on December 1 and the remaining 93 on December 5, over 4.9 crore voters, including 4.6 lakh first-time voters between the ages of 18 and 19, 10,460 centenarians, and 1,417 third-gender voters (whose number has doubled since 2017), are eligible to choose their representatives. The state’s implementation of the model code of conduct has already begun.
The results of the elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh were announced on different days in 2017 as well; the former was on October 12, 2017, and the latter was on October 25. When A. K. Joti was the CEC at the time, the EC came under fire for deviating from tradition by holding elections in states where the assemblies were set to expire at roughly the same time and for allowing the ruling party to manipulate the results at the last minute. The state government’s request for additional time to provide flood relief without being subject to model code restrictions was then used by the EC to justify the delayed announcement in regard to Gujarat.
Additionally, on Thursday, Congress asked the EC for an explanation for the 19-day delay between the announcement of the elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh and the counting, particularly since both were scheduled for the same day. Congress claimed that this gave the BJP time to hold rallies, including those where the prime minister spoke, at taxpayer expense.
In response to the criticism, the CEC insisted that the EC had to balance several factors, including weather (Himachal would be snowbound by mid-November), the end of the assembly’s term (the Gujarat assembly’s term ends more than a month before Himachal’s, and results would be announced with 72 days to spare), and the number of days the model code of conduct is in effect (this time, the duration in Gujarat will be 36 days, which is almost on par with Himachal’s).
Kumar dismissed claims of bias, claiming that “actions and outcomes actually speak louder than words.” Results from assembly elections have occasionally demonstrated that EC critics have received unexpected results. There have been instances where a party that made extensive complaints to the EC about electronic voting machines (EVMs) during elections actually won the election using those very EVMs. Election impartiality is attested to by the outcomes. All of our predecessor commissions have continued this legacy. When there is talk of “democratic recession or backsliding” in many countries due to fake news and negative campaigns around polls, he stressed how the panel’s leadership in guiding election integrity is accepted throughout the world.
The CEC stated that in order to ensure that there are no inducements used during elections, it will collaborate with a number of law enforcement organisations, including the state police, excise department, GST department, DRI, income tax department, ED, RBI, CISF, and RPF. Additionally, district-level social media teams will be put in place to monitor fake news in an effort to quickly stop it from spreading.