Hi­machal polls on Nov 9, Gu­jarat dates soon: EC

Hindustan Times (Lucknow) - - FRONT PAGE - Sm­riti Kak Ra­machan­dran sm­riti.kak@hin­dus­tan­times.com n

NEWDELHI: Elec­tions to pick a new leg­isla­tive as­sem­bly for Hi­machal Pradesh will be held on Novem­ber 9, the Elec­tion Com­mis­sion an­nounced on Thurs­day. Re­sults will be de­clared on De­cem­ber 18.

Chief elec­tion com­mis­sioner AK Joti said as­sem­bly polls in Gu­jarat will be held be­fore De­cem­ber 18 but he did not an­nounce the dates.

Re­sults for both the states are likely to be de­clared on the same date.

The polls are seen as a barom­e­ter of sup­port for Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi at a time when a sput­ter­ing econ­omy has handed the op­po­si­tion Con­gress party a pos­si­ble open­ing to re­gain po­lit­i­cal ground.

In par­tic­u­lar, the con­test in Gu­jarat, Modi’s home state where the BJP has been in power for 22 years, will be keenly watched for signs of voter re­ac­tion to some of his rad­i­cal eco­nomic poli­cies that made do­ing busi­ness far more com­pli­cated, es­pe­cially for small and medium com­pa­nies.

How­ever, the BJP will take heart from the fact that Modi’s pub­lic ap­proval re­mains as high as ever, ev­i­dent from the party’s stun­ning vic­tory in the bell weather state of Ut­tar Pradesh early this year.

The Con­gress trained its guns on the BJP govern­ment, ac­cus­ing it of “putting pres­sure” on the poll panel to de­fer an­nounce­ment of elec­tion dates in Gu­jarat to “suit” its po­lit­i­cal ends. The party said im­ple­men­ta­tion of the code of con­duct has been de­ferred to al­low Modi’s rally in the state.

Joti said the com­mis­sion had re­ceived a rep­re­sen­ta­tion from Gu­jarat seek­ing more time be­fore the model code of con­duct is en­forced, which is from the date of an­nounce­ment of elec­tions till the re­sults are an­nounced.

Gov­ern­ments are barred from mak­ing any an­nounce­ments that can im­pact elec­tion out­come.

Joti quoted the state ad­min­is­tra­tion as say­ing it was in the process of com­plet­ing re­lief and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion works in the af­ter­math of July’s floods that killed more than 200 peo­ple and ne­ces­si­tated re­lo­ca­tion of 45 vil­lages.

In the last round of as­sem­bly elec­tions in five states, es­pe­cially in Ut­tar Pradesh, the BJP had pro­jected the re­sults as a vin­di­ca­tion of the NDA govern­ment’s de­mon­eti­sa­tion gam­bit. How­ever, the elec­tions for the 68-mem­ber Hi­machal as­sem­bly and the 182 mem­ber Gu­jarat as­sem­bly could be­come a test of pub­lic sup­port for the goods and ser­vices tax (GST) that trig­gered protests by traders in Gu­jarat.

Con­gress vice pres­i­dent Rahul Gandhi has given in­di­ca­tions of the party’s poll planks, at­tack­ing the NDA govern­ment over an eco­nomic slow­down, lack of em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, hasty rollout of the GST and the plight of farm­ers, labour­ers and small traders and busi­ness­men.

Also, talk has gath­ered pace about Rahul Gandhi tak­ing over as the pres­i­dent of the Con­gress af­ter Di­wali. Should that hap­pen the two states will be his first for­mal lead­er­ship test.

The BJP has put up a brave front cit­ing how the In­dian econ­omy is the fastest-grow­ing in the world and obliquely hinted at its re­turn to old themes by ad­dress­ing Gandhi as “she­hzada” (prince) and re­fer­ring to “Ital­ian glasses”.

Vic­to­ries for the BJP could em­bolden the Cen­tre to stick to its fis­cal con­sol­i­da­tion path and go for other bold re­forms, es­pe­cially in the labour sec­tor, an ad­verse poll out­come could put pres­sure on the govern­ment to opt for pop­ulism, es­pe­cially with eight states go­ing to polls next year that would set the mo­men­tum for 2019 gen­eral elec­tions.

In Hi­machal, the odds are stacked against the Con­gress, with chief min­is­ter Virb­hadra Singh fac­ing charges of cor­rup­tion and a re­cent in­ci­dent of rape of a mi­nor girl on the out­skirt of Shimla rais­ing ques­tions about the govern­ment’s han­dling of the law and or­der sit­u­a­tion.

The grand old party has a more daunt­ing task in Gu­jarat where it won its last as­sem­bly elec­tions in 1985.

The party suf­fered a big jolt re­cently when Sankarsinh Vaghela, a pow­er­ful re­gional satrap, quit the Con­gress re­cently to launch a third front in the state.


CEC AK Joti, flanked by ECs Su­nil Arora and OP Rawat (L) an­nounces the Hi­machal poll sched­ule in New Delhi on Thurs­day.

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