Memorandum submitted to the Election Commission of India: Situation in Gujarat not conducive to a free and fair election
Even though the Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani told the Lok Sabha that a snap poll must be held in Gujarat so that the chief minister could get a ‘certificate from the people’, numerous reports from diverse sources reveal that the conditions in the state are far from normal and certainly a long way from the normalcy necessary for the conduct of a free and fair poll.
An important gauge of normalcy must be the performance and functioning of the government in the area of relief and rehabilitation in the aftermath of the worst communal carnage in India’s post-independence history. Ensuring the basic right to a life with security and dignity is the responsibility of the government. The government has not offered any comprehensive rehabilitation plan, nor has fair and non-discriminatory relief and compensation been offered to restore people’s faith in the government and administration.
Despite all the protestations to the contrary, normalcy has not returned to Gujarat in an adequate measure, as is evident from the news reports emanating almost daily from the state. An absence of organised violence does not mean normalcy. An improvement in the law and order situation is also not enough for holding elections. Fair elections can be held only when the conditions are such that every registered voter can cast his or her vote in a free and fearless manner. Such conditions do not exist in Gujarat.
Determined to show normalcy, the government is pressurising members of the minority community to return home, but in most cases where Muslims have returned to their villages, they are faced with economic and social boycott for having named the guilty, or they have returned only to find their homes and shops occupied by others.
Over two dozen affidavits filed before the Gujarat High Court show that blatantly aggressive methods, including threatening
the camp managers with detention under POTA, were used by district collectors to shut down camps, that is, the government claim of voluntary closure of camps is a lie.
Of the over 70 camps, 60 were hastily closed down when the situation does not warrant their closure. The authorities stopped the supply of essential commodities and drinking water to the camps though not one of the inmates had moved out or was provided alternative shelter. The victims residing in the existing camps are poor, and still urgently in need of food rations, shelter during monsoons and fair compensation. The compensation paid out so far has gone to only a small percentage and is grossly inadequate.
While no compelling reasons were given for the dissolution of the assembly, the six-month rule in Article 174, to the effect that a new assembly must reconvene within six months of the last session of the previous assembly, is now being invoked to pressurise the Election Commission to hold early elections. The Election Commission however is not bound by the six-month rule: for example, if in Gujarat dissolution took place in September, the Election Commission could not possibly have conducted the election in a few days to comply with the six-month rule.
Instead of calling for a premature election, the chief minister should have called an assembly session both to comply with the six-month rule as well as for a substantial discussion on the situation in the state. He could also have obtained concurrence for dissolution. The very fact that the assembly was dissolved without observing any of these rules is ample indication that the chief minister’s primary motive is to gain electoral dividends from the sectarian polarisation created by the communal carnage. This is tantamount to legitimising not only majoritarianism, but also cruelty, violence and intolerance.
An election held under the prevailing circumstances will be deficient in moral and democratic credibility.