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Renuka Chowdhury barges into CEC's house over poll dates
A Correspondent in Delhi
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January 30, 2009 22:51 IST

After battling with a day-long embarrassment of unending  phone calls on Wednesday over Election Commissioner S Y Qureshi hinting in London [Images] about the Lok Sabha polls being held April 8 and May 15, Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami was stunned to find a Union minister barge into his house in the evening, without any  appointment, to enquire about the election dates.

Union Minister for Women and Child Welfare, Renuka Chowdhury, who lives  adjacent to Gopalaswami, walked into his Lodhi Estate bungalow. Despite living in the adjacent bungalows they were never friendly and hence Gopalaswami was quite perplexed to find the minister knocking at his door.  Chowdhury just enquired with the gardener across the wall if "sahab" was at home and walked across to meet him.

The CEC was amused when she announced the purpose of her visit was to get the poll announcement delayed lest the model code of conduct for elections sabotages an all-India conference of the Anganwadi workers, whic her ministry had planned to hold in New Delhi [Images] on April 8.

Gopalaswami frankly told her that April 8 is a risky date if the government intends to make some announcement at the conference since the model code may come into force from February 15. Back home, Renuka quickly ordered advancing the conference to February, happy that her visit to the CEC yielded the right result.

She was the second union minister to plead with him to delay announcement of the elections. Earlier in the day, Gopalaswami reportedly received a phone call on RAX, a secure exchange meant for only the government use, from Railway Minister Lalu Prasad.

Sources said Lalu Prasad wanted the CEC to immediately issue a denial to the report on the elections since the Railways have a lot of plans to launch new trains and schemes that will be scuttled if the model code comes into effect.

The CEC had tough time explaining to the Railway Minister that no dates had been yet decided as the process of consultations before drawing up the election schedule begins only next Tuesday when an all party meeting is slated.

He also pleaded with Lalu Prasad that the media reports were all about a personal view of Qureshi, not any official announcement and hence he found no reason to issue the denial.

Two hours later, Gopalaswami, however, decided to issue a clarification since the Election Commission was flooded with phone calls from the state election officers, political leaders and secretaries to the Government of India, all wanting to know if the dates are final and whether to take it as the announcement.

All three secretaries of the Election Commission were busy answering to the state election officers who were worried that they would have to immediately issue the notice on the model code coming into force.

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