The ongoing tussle between the YSR Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh and the State Election Commission (SEC) took a new turn on Wednesday with the latter setting in motion the process of conducting elections to the rural and urban local bodies in the state.

State election commissioner Nimmagadda Ramesh Kumar held a meeting with representatives of all political parties in the state to seek their views on reviving the process of conducting elections to panchayat raj bodies and municipalities, which was stalled in March this year due to outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement later, Ramesh Kumar said he had held consultations with representatives of 11 recognised political parties. Two other parties had sent their opinions in writing while six others did not attend the meeting. “The consultations with each party representative were held separately keeping in view the Covid-19 guidelines,” he said.

TDP state president K Atchan Naidu said he had requested that the SEC issue a fresh notification for the conduct of local body elections, as there were allegations of large scale irregularities against the ruling YSR Congress Party in the first phase.

Several other opposition parties like BJP, BSP, the Congress, the CPI and CPI (M) also echoed the same view stating that fresh elections be conducted for the local bodies in the state.

The ruling YSRCP boycotted the all-party meeting alleging that the SEC had held the all-party meeting in a bid to hurry through elections.

“Ramesh Kumar postponed the elections to local bodies when there were not even three Covid-19 positive cases every day. How can he conduct the elections now, when the state is reporting around 3,000 cases a day?” YSRCP official spokesman and MLA Ambati Rambabu asked.

He said as per the Supreme Court directions, the SEC should consult the government before holding the all-party meeting.

“He should take the views of the health department officials and chief secretary to know whether the situation was conducive for elections or not,” Ambati Rambabu said.

He reminded that Ramesh Kumar had written letters to the Centre in the past making wild allegations against chief minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy and his party. “How can we expect the elections to be free and fair under his authority? He is clearly hand-in-glove with the TDP, led by N Chandrababu Naidu,” Rambabu said.

However, the SEC refuted the allegations, saying he had already had a meeting with the officials of the health department on Tuesday afternoon and would be meeting the chief secretary later. He said he had invited representatives of all recognised political parties with reserved symbols.

“The SEC is a Constitutional body and casting aspersions is best avoided as per the best democratic traditions. The exercise is being done as a prelude to a stand it has to adopt before the high court in a PIL related to conduct of elections,” Ramesh Kumar said.

It may be mentioned that Ramesh Kumar had incurred the wrath of the Jagan government for abruptly postponing the process of elections to local bodies in March amid Covid-19 pandemic.

The chief minister directly accused him of postponing the elections in collusion with Chandrababu Naidu because both belonged to the same caste. On April 10, the Jagan government removed Ramesh Kumar from the SEC post through an ordinance reducing the tenure of the SEC from five to three years and appointed a retired judge in his place.

Ramesh Kumar challenged the ordinance in the high court, which struck down the same on May 29. The state government moved the SC challenging the high court order and after prolonged hearings, the SC upheld the high court judgment on July 31 and asked the government to reinstate Ramesh Kumar as the SEC.

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