The Gujarat High Court on Wednesday debunked a government ordinance to postpone local body elections by three months.
Chief Justice Jayant Patel and Justice J.V. Anjaria also criticized the State Election Commission for toeing the government line that the law and order situation in Gujarat was not conducive for free and fair polls.
The judges directed the poll panel to start preparations for the elections immediately and also turned down the remedy of an appeal before the Supreme Court.
This is the first time since Narendra Modi took charge of Gujarat as chief minister in October 2001 that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sought to postpone any election.
When Modi was at the helm of affairs in Gujarat, he would want all elections on time.
The high court order follows two writ petitions challenging the October 4 ordinance to postpone the elections citing law and order concerns in the wake of protests by the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) demanding job quotas for the Patel community.
The Congress has alleged that the Anandiben Patel government was trying to postpone the elections and pitchfork administrators on the local bodies fearing an electoral backlash from the Patel community.
The terms of six municipal corporations, 56 municipalities and 230 taluka (tehsil) and 31 district panchayats, a majority of which are controlled by the BJP, are expiring between this month and November.
Earlier, the high court bench ridiculed the Election Commission’s plea to postpone the elections.
“If elections can be held in Jammu and Kashmir, surely the situation in Gujarat is not worse,” the court said.
It also pointed out that there were no provisions to appoint administrators in the panchayats.
The first petition was filed by Congress legislator Shaktisinh Gohil, in reply to which the State Election Commission had cited the Patel agitation as the reason for wanting to put off the elections.
The poll panel, however, said the elections would be held in December.
Before the high court took a call on this, another petition was filed by Gandhinagar panchayat vice president and Congress member Virendra Vaghela as well as Jagdish Bhatt, a resident of Bhavnagar, calling the October 4 ordinance “unconstitutional and malafide”.
Quoting BJP sources, news agency IANS reported that though the government had crushed Patel leader Hardik Patel’s protests, the party leadership did not want to take chances.
“We might even consider propping up independent Patel candidates in the local body elections to split the vote if Hardik Patel fields candidates,” said a leader requesting anonymity.