The bitterly contested Rajya Sabha elections for three seats in Gujarat witnessed relentless drama and attracted national attention. In the end, counting was delayed by over eight hours, instances of cross-voting buoyed members of the BJP and the INC to protest outside the Election Commission (EC) headquarters in New Delhi, and the EC invalidated two votes.
The three seats up for re-election were of Ahmed Patel of the INC and Smriti Irani and Dilip Pandya of the BJP. Irani won reelection easily while Pandya’s seat was taken over by Amit Shah, the BJP President, whose election marks his debut as a Parliamentarian.
It was Patel’s election that generated national scrutiny and interest. The 67-year-old Congress stalwart has been one of India’s most powerful men for decades and one of the most powerful personalities within the Congress Party. The August 8 election was his fifth pitch for the Upper House – and Shah and the BJP had ensured that he faced an uphill task securing reelection.
Horse-trading by the BJP dented the power of the INC in the Gujarat Assembly. So much so that two weeks before the election the Congress gathered its 44 Gujarat legislators and took them to a Bengaluru resort to check poaching by the BJP.
Patel needed the support of 45 MLAs after six Congress lawmakers resigned amid horse-trading by the BJP, bringing the party’s strength in the Assembly to just 51.
August 8, 2017
Voting began at 9 AM on August 8. It ended at 2 PM.
Minutes before voting, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani (BJP) said, “Given the support extended by the NCP, JD(U) and the fact that the Shankersinh Vaghela group will vote for Rajput, BJP’s all three candidates are set to win.”
Irani and Shah won in their respective seats as expected, but the focus was always on whether Patel would be able to squeak through. It was a remarkable thing that a powerful politician like Patel would be forced to fight so relentlessly for his seat.
To oppose him, the BJP had fielded rebel Congress leader Balwant Singh Rajput.
“All 176 MLAs have voted in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha election,” the state election officer told the press at 3:52 PM. Counting was slated to begin at 5 PM and the results announced soon after.
It emerges that two MLAs had showed their votes to Amit Shah
At 4:53 PM, however, began calls to delay the counting. Congress MLA Shaktisinh Gohil said the two Congress MLAs who voted for BJP showed their votes to Amit Shah (thi is not allowed as the election process is through secret ballot) and that the same had been videographed.
“If a voter shows his vote to anyone other than party’s authorized agent, then the vote gets rejected,” Gohil said, adding that if the if the video was tampered, then it’s a serious a criminal act and they (Congress) would go to the Supreme Court for that.
The two Congress MLAs who cross-voted and showed their votes to Shah were Bhola Gohil and Raghav Patel.
All eyes on Election Commission
Responding to the allegations, the BJP state president said, “Let the Election Commission take the call.”
The state EC initially allowed counting to begin but halted the same after Congress approached the EC in Delhi. Soon, party leaders converged in the capital to sort out the issue. A full bench meeting of the EC was underway by 9 PM.
At around 11:30 PM, the Election Commission ended the suspense and declared the votes of Congress MLAs Bhola Bhai Gohil and Raghav Patel as invalid and directed the counting to begin as soon as possible.
The EC order said that while going through the video footage of the polling process, it found that the two had violated the secrecy of ballots (read order here).
Counting finally began at 1:38 AM.
Ahmed Patel had won reelection for a fifth term by just one vote. Congress workers erupted in celebration; Shah and Rupani reiterated that Congress had to fight for 44 votes even though it had 57 votes and aid from the JD(U) and the NCP.
The cross-voting cases that mattered
In the end, it came to light that it was not only the Congress MLAs Gohil and Raghav Patel who cross-voted on Tuesday. BJP MLA Nalin Kotadiya voted for Congress, citing the “pain of 14 youths who died during the Patidar agitation” as the reason for the same on a Facebook post.
Kandhal Jadeja and Jayant Patel of the NCP voted differently even though the NCP had thrown its support behind Congress. While Jadeja voted to the BJP, Jayant Patel voted for Congress.
And the lone JD(U) legislator in Gujarat, Chhotu Vasava, voted for Ahmed Patel even though his party recently joined hands with the BJP in Bihar. Vasava, a six-time legislator, called it a “vote for safety of the country” and reportedly remains opposed to his party’s alliance with the BJP.
Presently, Patel’s narrow reelection seems to have brought new life to the state Congress while the BJP has admonished it as a mere hiccup.
The two parties now have their eyes on the Legislative Election later this year. Whether the Congress can ride on Patel’s reelection success story and gain mileage and votes in December or whether the Modi-Shah factor will continue to give the BJP victories remains to be seen.