Navprabhat, who was a minister in the Harish Rawat government of Congress, had recently quoted the same screw as saying that since the assembly elections are less than a year away, the by-elections cannot be held. He had claimed that due to this constitutional crisis, Tirath Singh Rawat would not be able to continue as CM after September. From here a debate broke out that what are the rules and regulations and what is the BJP’s strategy.
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What was the answer given by BJP?
Rejecting the crisis statement on the appointment of Rawat as the Chief Minister of Uttarakhand, the BJP said two things in a major way. BJP state president Madan Kaushik accused the Congress of spreading confusion and said that when Tirath Singh Rawat became the CM, there was more than a year left for the assembly elections to be held. Secondly, Kaushik said that it is the job of the Election Commission to conduct elections. ‘If elections are also held tomorrow, then our party is ready.’ In this debate between Congress and BJP, you should understand the constitutional rules and regulations.
What does section 151A say?
Section 151A of the Representation of the People Act mandates the Election Commission to hold by-elections within six months of the occurrence of any seat in the Parliament or Legislative Assembly. Two assembly seats have fallen vacant in Uttarakhand from this angle. After the passing of MLA Gopal Rawat on April 22, Haldwani seats have fallen vacant due to the death of Gangotri and Indira Hridayesh in the past. So the commission will have to conduct elections here between October and December this year. But can the by-elections be postponed?
What steps can the Election Commission take?
According to section 151A, elections should be held within six months, but the question is if there is less than a year left in the assembly elections, then the by-election on the vacant seat can be postponed? According to SK Mendiratta, who served as the statutory advisor to the Election Commission for 50 years, the commission can certainly hold by-elections in this situation, even if the assembly elections are to be held within a year.
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The Print report, quoting Mendiratta, said that such situations have happened in the past and the Election Commission has taken steps for the by-polls. For example, former Odisha Chief Minister Girdhar Gamang was elected a Lok Sabha member in 1998, but got the Chief Minister’s post in 1999. Assembly elections were due in 2000, less than a year from the time of his appointment, yet Gamang became an MLA in 1999 through a by-election. Other experts also believe that postponing the by-election in case elections are held within a year is not a fixed rule, but it is more a matter of administrative convenience.
It is noteworthy that Lok Sabha MP from Pauri Garhwal seat in Uttarakhand, Tirath Singh Rawat, was made the Chief Minister in March 2021 in place of former Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat. The Congress claimed that Rawat’s continuation in the post of CM would be a “crisis” as the by-polls were not possible, but experts are saying that by-elections can be held.