Election Commission to decide on Lok Sabha poll dates today
New Delhi: The Congress party-led Union government on Sunday approved job reservations for the Jat community through an ordinance ahead of the national election, but developed cold feet in clearing half-a-dozen anti-corruption legislation. The Election Commission of India (EC) is expected to decide on polling dates for the Lok Sabha election on Monday.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government approved of a new ordinance to ensure reservation for people from the Jat community in Union government jobs. It also approved changes to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
With EC announcing dates, the model code of conduct will come into effect, making it impossible for the govt to take any major policy initiatives
It, however, kept from approving the anti-graft legislation due to apprehensions on the prospects of some of these ordinances getting President Pranab Mukherjee’s consent.
Law minister Kapil Sibal had met Mukherjee on Saturday to answer any potential questions on the timing of issuing the ordinances.
“Both the law minister and the President exchanged communication more than once on the issue, wherein the President expressed doubts about whether the timing of the ordinance can be questioned in the courts,” a person familiar with the matter said, requesting anonymity. “The government may take up these ordinances in the next cabinet meeting.”
The cabinet also decided to provide special category status for Seemandhra, a term coined for the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions combined after the controversial decision to bifurcate Andhra Pradesh to form Telangana state.
The poll sops for the Jat community comes at a time when political parties are trying to woo the dominant grouping in western Uttar Pradesh and Haryana in the backdrop of recent communal tensions in the region. Western Uttar Pradesh sends 14 candidates to the Lok Sabha, the lower House of Parliament, while Haryana, where the greenhorn Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is trying to emerge as a political force, sends 10.
The reservation issue was attributed as one of the factors for the Congress party being wiped out in Rajasthan in the December assembly election. The decision may also help the Congress in Haryana when the state goes for election later this year. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who is leading the party’s campaign for the general election, was keen on getting clearances for the anti-graft laws—the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill; the Whistle Blowers Protection Bill; the Right of Citizens for Time Bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill; the Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisations Bill; the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill; and the Public Procurement Bill, 2012—before the election.
“While a large number of senior ministers in the cabinet had expressed their apprehension about whether such ordinances would have any effect, days ahead of the election date announcement, another section, including Rahul Gandhi, was of the view that even a symbolic gesture was necessary,” said the person cited earlier.
The UPA government, which has been sitting on the draft laws for more than two years, failed to get them passed in the extended winter session that concluded on 21 February. The Congress party has been under fire over a slew of corruption scandals involving some of its leaders, and had hoped for the anti-graft laws to improve its image. The emergency meeting of the cabinet on Sunday, ahead of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s two-day visit to Myanmar, sets the stage for the election dates announcement. The cabinet is also expected to meet later this week.
According to a person familiar with the developments, the Election Commission has told the government it would like to make the announcement on 5 March. With the panel announcing dates, the model code of conduct will come into effect, making it impossible for the government to take any major policy initiatives.
The polls are slated to see more than 810 million voters exercise their ballot and are expected to begin before 7 April. The Lok Sabha election is likely to be conducted over six phases.
“We are trying to limit the polls to six phases. However, we are still trying to work it out. A meeting has been called tomorrow to have a fix on the election dates,” an Election Commission official said, requesting anonymity.
The 2009 polls were held in five phases from 16 April to 13 May. The term of the current Lok Sabha expires on 1 June and the new House has to be constituted by 31 May.
“The first phase polling date will not go beyond 7 April,” the Election Commission official said.
Along with the Lok Sabha poll, Andhra Pradesh, including the regions comprising the newly carved out 29th state of Telangana, Odisha and Sikkim will go to polls to elect new assemblies.
The United Progressive Alliance that has ruled India since 2004 is facing a wave of anti-incumbency, driven largely by its mishandling of the economy and the involvement of some of its members and allies in corruption scandals. Opinion polls give an edge to the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party, although the party will have to cobble together a coalition to make up the numbers, if the opinion poll numbers are any indication.
PTI contributed to the story.