Keeping up with UP | With Omicron looming, can UP elections be deferred?
In case the Commission decides to defer polls in all five states, then they will have to impose President’s rule in the states
Can the Election Commission defer polls in one state and allow them in four other states, when the reason is the all-pervasive fear of a third wave of Covid-19? Going by the terms of their respective assembles, the answer is yes. For unlike the other four poll-bound states of Goa, Manipur, Punjab and Uttarakhand, the term of the Vidhan Sabha in Uttar Pradesh ends on May 15.
Though UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath first took the oath of office on March 19, 2017, the first sitting of the newly constituted Vidhan Sabha was held on May 15. Constitutionally, the term of the Vidhan Sabha is counted from the first sitting of the House, experts say. Thus, the new government should be constituted by May 14, as mentioned on the website of the Election Commission. As for the four other poll-bound states, their terms end on different dates in March: Goa (March 15), Manipur (March 19), Uttarakhand (March 23) and Punjab (March 27).
Legal expert and former adviser to the Governor CB Pandey said, “Constitutionally, the elections in Uttar Pradesh can be deferred as the term of the outgoing government is till May 15. It should be constituted by May 14. But the Election Commission would like to take a uniform decision for all the five poll-bound states as the pandemic surge is feared across the country and not restricted to UP. In case the Commission decides to defer polls in all five states, then they will have to impose President’s rule in the states where the term of the Vidhan Sabha ends in March.”
While Covid-19 has severely impacted normal life across the globe, the electoral process in India has, by and large, remained undisturbed. Despite demands from some quarters for the deferment, assembly elections were held in Bihar, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Assam. Even as the second wave wreaked havoc, panchayat elections were held in Uttar Pradesh, as were bypolls in several states.
The panchayat elections for 60,000 gram sabhas in Uttar Pradesh amid the second wave led to widespread criticism of the state government even though it persistently tried to push the blame on the high court, claiming that the court refused to admit a please for the postponement of the polls. Many died. The state government then gave compensation to more than 1100 basic education department staff, including teachers, though various associations claimed more than 1600 teachers and staff had succumbed to Covid, while doing poll duty.
The government is therefore wary, but governments at the state and the centre are bound to weigh the political pros and cons before making official suggestions to the Election Commission of India. The Commission will take a call after an assessment of the situation and discussions with officials during their visit to the state beginning on December 28.
In 2017, the Election Commission had announced polls on January 4 for all the five states, including UP. The results were announced on March 11.
Thus, if the ECI decides to defer the polls in the wake of the predicted Omicron-driven third wave in February, there will be still be enough time to conduct the polls before the expiry of the present Vidhan Sabha’s term in Uttar Pradesh.
Chief Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra told the media in Dehradun on December 24 that the Commission will take an appropriate decision after factoring in the complexities of the situation after the team’s UP visit next week.
During his Uttarakhand visit, Chandra mentioned that he had held discussions with chief secretary SS Sandhu about Omicron and was told that there was only one case of the latest variant of Covid-19 in the state. The situation so far in UP is also under control. Two Omicron cases were reported from Ghaziabad in early December and they, too, are negative now. Uttar Pradesh reported its third Omicron case after a 29-year-old woman, who returned from the USA to Rae Bareli, tested positive.
Politically, it’s a double-edged sword, primarily because Covid-19 is unpredictable. For the government, elections at a time when cases are raging will bring back memories of oxygen shortage and floating bodies in the Ganga. And conducting them as per schedule may trigger a surge and then a blame game.
As of now, the Samajwadi Party, the main challenger to the BJP, favours polls on schedule while the Congress supports a deferment. The common perception is that the hurry with which the government is going ahead launching schemes indicates that elections will be held on time.
The Constitution will guide, but the decision will likely have political repercussions.