The Election Commission learnt about Chawla’s leave on Friday and Monday only when it got a communique from the Rashtrapati Bhawan on the President sanctioning his leave, upsetting the plans to which he was privy to finalise the schedule on Saturday and make the formal announcement on Sunday.
The election schedule may be announced now only on Tuesday or latest by Wednesday after a full bench of the Election Commission holds a formal meeting to approve the dates of polling and the phases in which the Lok Sabha polls will take place. It has also to simultaneously fix the Assembly elections in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and Tripura.
Sources said Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami could have gone ahead with holding the meeting to finalise the schedule even without Chawla as there was nothing wrong in he and colleague Election Commissioner S Y Qureshi sit together and decide. He, however, chose not to short-circuit the full bench meeting, but to wait for Chawla’s return on Tuesday.
POLLS FROM APR 12: The tentative plan discussed by the CEC and his colleague Election Commissioners with the Cabinet and Home Secretaries is to hold the elections between April 12 and May 12 in six or seven phases.
A host of the Union Ministers are engaged in a series of inaugurations, laying of foundations and announcement of a plethora of schemes and programmes to beat the model code of conduct that comes into force only with the announcement of the poll schedule. Home Minister P Chidambaram has slated a meeting on Monday to announce certain reliefs to personnel of the central para-military forces.
Eyebrows are raised over Chawla’s sudden leave as that gives the government a leeway of more time to make announcements without attracting the charge of indulging in corrupt practices of alluring an influencing the voters as defined under the model code.
Nobody in the Election Commission is, however, ready to comment on his leave, particularly since after the government has dropped enough hints that it is not accepting Gopalaswami’s recommendation to sack him and he is to be rather made the Chief Election Commissioner after Gopalaswami retires on April 20.
The Bhartiya Janata Party leaders, however, say the President should have made public her decision on Gopalaswami’s recommendation before the poll process sets in as otherwise they say every action of Chawla is seen as helping out the Congress.
The party is looking forward to Lucknow figuring in the first round of polling on April 12 as it would be a lucky day for its candidate Lalji Tandon whose birthday falls on that day. Tandon, the chief campaigner of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee since 1991, was declared the BJP’s candidate for the seat only on Friday.