When P Chidambaram went to the Election Commission along with a host of Congress leaders to beseech it to reject the votes of two rebel Congress MLAs in Gujarat on the ground that they had shown their ballot papers to unauthorised persons, the precedent he cited was that of rejection of a vote under similar circumstances in Haryana last year. In the delegation was Randeep Surjewala, whose vote was rejected in the RS polls in Haryana on June 11 last year. It ended in a fiasco for the Congress after the party-backed candidate R K Anand lost to BJP-backed independent candidate and Zee TV owner Subhash Chandra in what many then believed was internal sabotage.
Apart from that of Surjewala, as many as 12 votes of the Congress MLAs were found to be invalid after they cast their votes using an unauthorised pen.
The only difference between then and now is that Surjewala had cast his vote in favour of the official Congress candidate. His vote was rejected after the BJP challenged it arguing that Congress legislature Party leader Kiran Choudhary had seen his ballot paper. In today’s case, rebel Congress MLAs Bholabhai Gohil and Raghavjibhai Patel seem to have voted for BJP nominee Balwantsinh Rajput. Choudhary was not authorised to see the ballot. It was AICC General Secretary B K Hariprasad who was then the Congress agent authorised to see the votes. In fact, Surjewala was the first to approach the EC today. Even before Chidambaram went, Surjewala and R P N Singh had handed over a video of the poll proceedings in Gujarat to the commission demanding that the votes of Gohil and Patel be cancelled as per law as they violated the “secrecy of ballot”.
Surjewala alleged that the two legislators, instead of showing their ballots to the party’s election agent, displayed it to BJP president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani and this “should not be accepted”. Many Congress leaders could not help but recollect the Haryana episode. The allegation then by the Congress-backed candidate was that his defeat was the result of internal sabotage. Anand had alleged there was collusion between Bhupinder Singh Hooda and the BJP leadership to defeat him and lay the blame on Kuldeep Bishnoi, who had joined the Congress recently.
The allegation was that one of the Congress MLAs deliberately switched the pen after casting his vote. The authorised marker was later put back by another member. The votes of 12 MLAs who voted in between were found to be invalid, resulting in the BJP-backed candidate’s win.
Months later, the EC indicted Haryana Assembly Secretary R K Nandal over the ink row and recommended “disciplinary action” against him for lack of supervisory control during the election. It was the NDA government in 2003 that amended the Representation of the People Act and introduced open ballot system for Rajya Sabha elections. The amendment was challenged by Kuldip Nayar in the Supreme Court, but a five-judge bench headed by then Chief Justice Y K Sabharwal upheld the amendment introducing open ballot. On Tuesday, Chidambaram said, “We have pointed out to the EC that there is videographic evidence to show that the ballot papers of two Congress MLAs were seen by persons other than the authorised person of the party. That is a violation of the conduct of election rules, read with the circular of the EC.”
He said, “There are precedents where such ballot papers had been rejected. The most recent precedent was in Haryana on June 11, 2016. On that day, in the election to the Rajya Sabha a Congress MLA’s vote was rejected on the ground that the ballot paper had been seen by a person other than the authorised person. There was an another precedent in 2000 in Rajasthan where an independent MLA’s ballot paper was rejected on the ground that it was seen by a person other than the authorised person.” He said that in Gujarat, there was ample evidence to show that two votes cast by Congress MLAs were seen by persons other than the authorised persons.