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BJP state govts and Centre take measures for holding simultaneous polls, but Opposition smells opportunism

If Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan accepts a report submitted by a panel of ‘experts’ appointed by him, the state’s November 2018 Assembly polls could be clubbed with the general elections in 2019.

In March this year, Chouhan had set up a panel consisting of two state ministers, serving and retired bureaucrats and prominent citizens as members.

Panel member Girja Shankar told Firstpost, “We have recommended clubbing of Assembly polls with 2019 Lok Sabha polls where elections are due six months before or after April-May, 2019.”

Representational image. Reuters

In effect, it would mean simultaneous Assembly polls in as many as twelve states with the general elections. The states that have elections scheduled six months before or after May 2019 are Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Odisha, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand.

The BJP, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah, are strong votaries of simultaneous Lok Sabha and state Assembly polls.

Like Chouhan, the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh is in favour of simultaneous polls. State’s health minister Sidharth Nath Singh recently submitted a 23-page report favouring simultaneous polls. However, Singh has not commented upon a possibility of Uttar Pradesh opting for Assembly polls in 2019 as the state Assembly polls were held in February 2017.

On 28 February this year, BJP chief ministers and deputy chief ministers from 19 states had met in New Delhi’s BJP headquarters to discuss the possibility of simultaneous polls. One view that had emerged was that till the time holding simultaneous elections from panchayats to parliament was not feasible, the possibility of holding state polls in many states along with 2019 general elections should be explored.

As if taking cue, Chouhan and Adityanath set up panels to explore such a possibility.

Significantly, as per the constitutional provisions, an elected government enjoying majority in the House can advance polls by six months. However, there are no concessions for deferring polls. For instance, if state polls are not concluded by 8 December, 2018, Madhya Pradesh will have to come under a spell of President’s Rule where Governor Anandiben Patel, a former BJP chief minister of Gujarat, will have powers to run day-to-day functioning of the state.

Sources close to former union minister Kamal Nath, currently heading the Madhya Pradesh Congress unit, terms the possibility of simultaneous polls as a “kite-flying” exercise. Nath camp says the Congress would move the Supreme Court swiftly if “unconstitutional” measures like imposition of President Rule are introduced.

It may be purely coincidental, but since assuming charge of Bhopal Raj Bhawan in January this year, Governor Patel has been working as hands-on, active governor, summoning senior state officials directly. One of her recent directives to principal secretaries or heads of various state departments is to make a power point presentation about their ministries.

On a political plane, there are many BJP leaders in Madhya Pradesh who are keen for simultaneous polls. In their rationale, the Modi campaign would help them tide over the anti-incumbency factor rattling Shivraj Singh Chouhan. The BJP has lost four Assembly bypolls in past six months and farmers’ unrest is on the rise in the state. On the flip side, governor’s rule would put Chouhan in an awkward position.

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