The Gujarat High Court on Friday issued notices to the Election Commission of India and BJP leaders, among others, on four separate election petitions moved by Congress leaders challenging the recently held Assembly results where they were defeated by the BJP. Among the petitioners are Dhirajlal Madhavjibhai Kalathiya, who lost Botad Assembly seat to current state energy minister Saurabh Patel by a margin of 906 votes.
In all, more than 20 Congress leaders who lost in the recently held Assembly elections, have moved the High Court asking for direction to the Election Commission of India to count voter verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) slips which were not considered while pronouncing the results. Besides, one of the petitioners from Santrampur has contested that the BJP leader who won the polls overspent during the campaign.
Those who have filed the petitions include former Gujarat Congress chief Arjun Modhwadia from Porbandar, Sidharth Patel from Dabhoi (Vadodara), Mahendrasinh Baraiya from Prantij (Sabarkantha), Suleman M Pate from Bharuch, Rajendra B Parmar from Godhra and Nathabhai Patel from Vijapur, among others. Most of these candidates lost election by the margin of less than 3,000 votes.
On Wednesday, Justice J B Pardiwala recused himself from hearing the petition moved by Siddharth Patel. Apart from Congress leaders, there are leaders from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Indian National Dal also who have challenged the results.
Modhwadia told The Indian Express, “We have sought the counting of VVPAT on the basis of provisions. There are guidelines that along with Electronic Voting Machines, paper trail slips can also be counted. Since 2013, there are provisions that if a candidate demands, VVPAT should be counted. We had demanded but it was not done and therefore the petitions have been moved.” Modhwadia lost to BJP candidate by a margin of only 1855 votes.
“There are a number of discrepancies in the counting of votes. We have highlighted that in the petition. Basically, we are demanding the counting of VVPAT slips. Besides, there are several rules which have not been followed by the Election Commission,” said advocate Mehul H Rathod, who is appearing for Kalathiya.
The Assembly elections, held in December 2017, was the most tightly held contest. On at least 15 seats, the BJP beat the Congress by a margin of less than 3,000 votes. The seat with the narrowest margin was Godhra, where BJP candidate C K Raulji beat Rajendrasinh Balvantsinh of Congress by 258 votes.