A day after the Election Commission (EC) announced the date of by-elections to the Rajya Sabha in three states, including Gujarat, state Congress president Amit Chavda on Sunday said that the party will move the Supreme Court against its notification of separate bypolls for the two Upper House seats from the state. Chavda has also accused the BJP of pressurising and influencing the EC.
The EC has declared by-elections for six Rajya Sabha seats, which have fallen vacant, on July 5. Two of the six seats are from Gujarat, which were vacated following the elections of Amit Shah and Smriti Irani to the Lok Sabha from Gandhinagar and UP’s Amethi respectively.
2017 RS elections was a precursor to the current tussle
Elections to the three Rajya Sabha seats from Gujarat in August 2017 was even more fierce than the current tussle over the by-elections to the Upper House between the Opposition Congress and ruling BJP. Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel had then won a seat by a whisker amid cross-voting in the Gujarat Assembly. Patel’s election, however, was challenged before the Gujarat High Court, where the hearing is still going on. Amid all this, another litigation is on the cards.
“We are in process of taking a legal opinion and will appeal to the Supreme Court against the notification,” Chavda said while addressing media persons here on Sunday.
Chavda added, “In 2017, Amit Shah and Smriti Irani were elected to the Rajya Sabha. After that in 2019, both were elected from their respective Lok Sabha seats. We had our concerns that Constitutional laws might get disregarded and power (be) misused by the ruling BJP government to influence the Election Commission to not hold the by-elections together, but conduct separate polls for the two seats.”
“On June 2, both Paresh Dhanani (Leader of Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly) and I had approached the Election Commission of India as well as the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha through verbal and written memoranda and demanded that the by-elections be held together for both the seats. Keeping in mind the ratio of the MLAs in the Gujarat Assembly, we were sure that the Congress and BJP would win one seat each if the bypolls are conducted together. But the BJP has used the EC to favour their interests to win both the seats,” Chavda alleged.
Reacting to Chavda’s statements, Gujarat BJP chief Jitu Vaghani said that the Congress has not been able to digest its defeat in the recently-concluded Lok Sabha elections and that is why it is “spreading canards”.
In a press statement, Vaghani said that the Congress does not respect autonomous bodies like the Election Commission when their decisions are against their interests. “It has become the Congress’s habit of spreading lies and making allegations against the Constitutional authorities when its decisions are against them. Separate elections for Rajya Sabha have taken place even during the Congress’s time,” Vaghani said.
At present, the Congress has 72 MLAs (including controversial Alpesh Thakor and Dhavalsinh Zala whom the party has sought to be disqualified as MLAs) as compared to 100 of the BJP in the 182-member state Assembly. Four BJP MLAs have won the Lok Sabha elections and resigned from the Assembly recently.
Owing to the rules of the Rajya Sabha in counting of votes by taking into consideration preferences of the members if the polls for the two seats are held together, the Congress is likely to win one RS seat in Gujarat. However, if the by-elections are held separately, the BJP, having majority in the Assembly, could win both the seats.
In its notification on Saturday, the EC had announced that though the schedule for polling is common, that is July 5, the nomination and polls will be separate for both the seats. The EC had clarified that vacancies for bypolls to all Houses, including the Rajya Sabha, are considered separate and “separate notifications are issued and separate polls are held, though the schedule can be the same”. It cited two Delhi High Court rulings of 1994 and 2009, which had supported the system of holding separate bypolls in the same state under provisions of the Representation of the People Act.
Chavda said, “The notification issued by the EC states that the nomination and polls will be separate. For the first time they have used court orders as reference for their decision. Such references show that somewhere the EC is under pressure from the ruling party and has taken such an unfortunate decision.”
He added that the orders given by the Delhi HC then were under different circumstances.
“The Walia case from the Delhi HC has been used as a reference. If we look at the details, two seats were vacated in 1989 and one in 1990. The seats were vacated in two different years, the tenure was different and even the seats were reserved for separate categories and accordingly the HC decision was passed. But in Gujarat, the elections to the Rajya Sabha were held together in 2017 and both Amit Shah and Smriti Irani were elected to the Rajya Sabha together. Both were elected to the Lok Sabha in 2019 together and even their tenures as Rajya Sabha MPs will end together in 2023. Despite this, such notification is unfortunate and unconstitutional,” Chavda said.