External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and OBC youth leader Jugal Thakor, the two BJP candidates Friday got elected to Rajya Sabha, Jaishankar getting one vote lesser than Thakor, even as five MLAs — from Congress, Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) voted for the BJP. The two Congress MLAs — Alpesh Thakor and Dhavalsinh Zala — resigned after cross-voting.
The by-elections were necessitated following election of BJP national president and union home minister Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani to Lok Sabha. Against Jaishankar and Thakor, Congress had fielded two of its senior leaders Gaurav Pandya and Chandrika Chudasama respectively.
At the time of voting, Gujarat Assembly had total 175 members; 100 of BJP, 71 of Congress, two of BTP, one of NCP and one independent.
As per the details available, both Congress candidates got 70 votes each; 69 from among the Congress MLAs and one independent MLA Jignesh Mevani.
Meanwhile, BJP candidate Jaishankar got 104 votes and Jugal got 105 votes. Though, it was not clear if whose vote was invalidated.
“S Jaishankar received 104 votes while Thakor received 105 votes. Both Congress rivals received 70 votes each. One vote was invalidated on Amit Shah seat. We are not immediately sure who cast the invalid vote,” Additional Chief Electoral Officer Ashok Manek told The Indian Express.
Voting for the by-elections, which have already been rendered contentious after Congress challenged the Election Commission’s decision to hold it separately instead of holding it together, commenced at 9 am Friday. As the day progressed, Alpesh Thakor and Dhavalsinh Zala appeared to vote at the voting booth on the fourth floor of Gujarat Assembly building after spending significant time with BJP leaders downstairs.
After voting for BJP against the whip of the Congress party, Alpesh and Dhaval immediately went to the Speaker’s chamber and submitted their resignations. Meanwhile, Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani said that immediately after cross-voting by the two, Congress moved an application before the Speaker – Rajendra Trivedi – seeking their disqualification with a demand to bar them from contesting elections for the next six years as per legal provisions.
“At the time of our submission of the application, the Speaker told us that he has already accepted resignations of Alpesh and Dhaval, so he cannot pass any order on the application. Though, no formal order was passed on our application. We will approach Gujarat High Court, if our application (against Alpesh and Dhaval) is not allowed,” Dhanani said.
Before cross voting of Alpesh and Dhaval, the BTP MLAs – Chhotu Vasava from Jhagadia constituency and his son Mahesh Vasava from Dediapada constituency – had cast their vote in favour of BJP candidates.
However, when contacted, Chhotu Vasava told The Indian Express, “We (me and my son) have exercised our voting rights for Rajya Sabha elections and we have not given vote to BJP. We have (given) it to the Congress.”
Mahesh said, “We have given vote today at 10.15 am. I told the election officers that they should keep NOTA option, so that the voter who doesn’t want to cast his vote to any party can vote for NOTA.”
Though, Congress party’s official polling agent for the by-polls and senior MLA Shailesh Parmar said, “Both BTP candidates and NCP candidate (Kandhal Jadeja) have voted for BJP along with Alpesh Thakor and Dhavalsinh Zala. Jigneshbhai (Mevani, the independent MLA) voted for Congress candidates.”
That the father-son duo were upset with the Congress when the party refused to ally with it on its terms in the Lok Sabha elections held recently. The BTP thus fielded candidates on seven seats leading to a triangular contest. The BTP had expected the Congress to “return the favour” of the last RS election in the Lok Sabha elections. But the Congress offered to field Chhotu Vasava from the Bharuch Lok Sabha seat as a Congress candidate fighting on its palm symbol, which the tribal leader did not agree to. Chhotu Vasava fought on the Bharuch seat and lost. In the fiercely contested RS polls in 2017, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel had won by a whisker; thanks to a vote from Chhotu Vasava.
Before Alpesh and Dhaval, NCP MLA from Kutiyana constituency Kandhal Jadeja had cast his vote. After Jadeja cast his vote, he was greeted by Gujarat BJP president Jitu Vaghani outside the polling booth.
NCP state unit president and former Chief Minister Shankersinh Vaghela told The Indian Express, “I had personally handed the party whip to Kandhal to vote for the two Congress candidates”. When told that Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had publicly announced that Jadeja voted for the BJP, Vaghela said, “That he will say, but how is one to know?”
Asked if he would take action against Jadeja, if the whip was violated, the NCP chief said, “There is no way to know who had voted for whom.”
Even before the election results were officially declared by the Election Commission at 10:30 pm, Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani accompanied by the the two BJP candidates announced victory a couple of hours before the official declaration.
“Both BJP candidates will represent Gujarat in the Rajya Sabha,” he said adding the fight for the two Rajya Sabha seats had ended. BJP president Jitu Vaghani who also accompanied the CM said the official declaration of results will happen later.
Thanking everyone a victorious S Jaishankar said, “I had said during my nomination that externail affairs minister and Gujarat has a natural partnership. Gujaratis are among the biggest group present globally. There is no country where Gujaratis are not there. This I have seen it for myself…. Today our relation has become special. I will keep coming and I am proud of working alongside you.”
There are 11 Rajya Sabha seats in Gujarat. Of these two fell vacant after the Lok Sabha elections. Five of the sitting MPs are from the BJP, while four are from the Congress party. After Friday’s victory the total number of BJP MPs in Rajya Sabha from Gujarat will continue to be at seven.