EC needs to be fair & impartial
And also appear to be so
It is now manifesting increasingly clear that in deciding on the poll schedule for various elections or bye-elections to fill vacancies in Parliament and State assemblies, Election Commission (EC), at times, appears to have been motivated by considerations unexplained and unconvincing sparking doubts on its obvious fairness and impartiality.
Earlier in 2011 the EC floundered on holding bye-elections to the three casual vacancies in the Karnataka State assembly within the mandatory period of six months on incredible and contradictory grounds.
This time the EC has once again been found wanting in not holding bye-elections to the Mandi parliamentary constituency in Himachal Pradesh simultaneously with those in parliamentary and assembly constituencies in Gujarat, Bihar, West Bengal, UP and Maharashtra on June 2, 2013.
As a matter of principle and practice, the EC had throughout been announcing the schedule for simultaneous elections and bye-elections to all the vacancies in Parliament or State assemblies which had been by that time notified vacant to it.
Interestingly, on May 3, 2013 in the opening paragraph of the EC Press Note (No. EC/PN/22/2012 only mentions the "clear vacancies in Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies" in these States and deliberately or otherwise, hides the fact that the Mandi parliamentary seat had fallen vacant on January 1.
It is interesting to note that while announcing the bye-election schedule for Mandi parliamentary constituency on May 21, 2013 in its Press Note No. ECI/PN/25/2013 the EC tries to explain that it has been able to do so "after taking into consideration various factors like festivals, electoral rolls, weather conditions etc. " It may be worthwhile to point out that in between the date of poll (June 2) in other States and in Himachal Pradesh, no "festival" worth the name took place in Mandi area to hinder holding of polling.
As far as the "weather conditions" were concerned, there was nothing abnormal and unusual this time. In 2004 and 2009 polling in Mandi parliamentary constituency have been held even in the month of May. Going by this year's experience, does it mean that the EC and HP government will not be able to hold polling for parliamentary elections due in May 2014?
It is also interesting to note that general elections to the State assembly of Himachal Pradesh took place on November 4, 2012 while the election process for the State of Gujarat commenced in December yet counting of votes in Himachal assembly elections was ordered to be held simultaneously after about seven weeks on December 20 in order to ensure that the results of Himachal elections did not impact the trend of voting in Gujarat.
On this very EC logic, in all fairness it was all the more necessary that bye-elections for Mandi vacancy should have been held simultaneously with those in Gujarat and in other States lest the results in these bye-elections did not in any way affect the outcome of Mandi poll.
The only excuse – and valid one – the Election Commission has been able to advance is that the "electoral rolls………with reference to 01.01.2013 as the qualifying date and (sic) have been finally published on 6.5.2013." That remains surprising. Why did the EC and the State government fail in their constitutionally mandatory duty to undertake revision and finally publish the same "with reference to 01.01.2013 as the qualifying date" earlier? If 2004 and 2009 elections to Parliament could be held in early May after finally publishing the revised electoral rolls with reference to 1st January 2004 and 1st January 2009 earlier enabling the EC to announce the election schedule as early as March those years, why could it not be done in May this time?
When the electoral rolls stood finally published on 6.5.2013, EC could either have announced the election schedule for Mandi simultaneously or just 3-4 days later because election schedule for other States was announced only on May 3. At the most, EC could have ordered polling to take place, if not earlier, at least on June 5, the day of counting.
It may be by coincidence or by design, but the fact remains that the day of polling has been set to be June 23, the birthday of the Himachal chief Minister Virbhadra Singh whose wife Mrs. Pratibha Singh is the Congress nominee for the constituency. Virbhadra Singh is openly campaigning in the constituency exhorting the voters to give him the "birthday gift" of his wife's (Congress candidate's) victory in election on June 23.