The stage is set for the Rajya Sabha by-elections in Gujarat to be conducted on Friday, for which two candidates each from the BJP and the Congress are in the fray.
A single polling booth with two separate divisions has been made for the polls to be held at Gandhinagar to fill the seats left vacant by BJP leaders Amit Shah and Smriti Irani who were elected to the Lok Sabha and subsequently resigned from the Upper House.
As voting will be held separately for both the seats, it is expected to be smooth ride for the BJP candidates, External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar and and OBC leader Jugal Thakor. The voting process is expected to be keenly watched for possibilities of cross-voting, especially from among Congress MLAs. Congress has herded over 60 of its MLAs to a resort in Palanpur, in a bid to prevent chances of horse-trading.
“Polling will start at 9am on Friday and will continue till 4pm. Counting will begin at 5 pm,” said Gujarat Chief Electoral Officer S Murali Krishna, who conducted a review of poll preparations on Thursday.
Out of the 182-member strong Gujarat Assembly, a total of 175 MLAs are expected to exercise their franchise in the polls. This includes 100 BJP MLAs, 71 Congress MLAs (including Alpesh Thakor and Dhavalsinh Jhala who resigned from the party, according to the Congress), two MLAs of Bharatiya Tribal Party (Chhotubhai Vasava and son Maheshbhai Vasava), one MLA of NCP (Kandhal Jadeja) and one Independent (Jignesh Mevani). Three MLAs of Dwarka, Talala and Morva Hadaf were disqualified and four seats are vacant after the MLAs who occupied these seats were elected to the Lok Sabha after the recently held general elections.
“There will be two elections that will be held separately — one for the seat vacated by Amit Shah and the other one Smriti Irani. These are not biennial elections. Since it is by-election, those elected to both these seats will serve only the remaining term that ends in 2023,” Murali Krishna said. Both Amit Shah and Smriti Irani won the Rajya Sabha elections in August 2017 when a single election was held for three seats. Congress candidate Ahmed Patel edged through on the third seat then.
For the bypolls on Friday, the Election Commission has created one polling station on the fourth floor of the Gujarat Assembly complex at Gandhinagar. On this floor, a large hall has been divided into two parts where polling to both the seats will be held. White ballot papers will be used for polling on the seat vacated by Amit Shah, while pink ballot papers will be used for the seat vacated by Smriti Irani.
“External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar will contest against Congress candidate Gaurav Pandya on the seat vacated by Amit Shah, while BJP’s OBC leader Jugal Thakor will take on veteran Congress leader and former MLA Chandrikaben Chuasama on the seat vacated by Smriti Irani,” the CEO said.
On Friday when the polling gets under way, only one MLA will be allowed at a time inside the polling booth. He or she will be first cast his vote for Amit Shah seat, display the vote to the “authorised agent” who has been posted by the four parties inside the polling booth. The BJP, the Congress, the NCP and the Bharatiya Tribal Party will have their agents inside the polling booth in separate cubicles. If an MLA displays it to anyone else other than the authorised agent of his/her own party, it will be violation of the rules and the vote will become invalid.
The entire voting process will be captured on two CCTV cameras and the process where MLAs show their cast votes to the respective party’s authorised agents will be videographed. Independent MLAs are not accountable to show their votes, since they do not work on a party mandate, according to election officials.
Special marker pens have been sourced from Bengaluru with which MLAs will mark their preferences of the ballot papers while casting their votes.
Fearing cross-voting, the Congress on Wednesday shifted 65 MLAs to Balaram Palace Resort near Palanpur in Banaskatha district, calling it a training session ahead of the bypolls on Friday.
“We have the required numbers with us and so we do not expect any problems. It will be a straight victory for us. However, it remains to be seen what happens in the Congress as they have a number of internal problems,” said BJP spokesperson and former party MLA, Bharat Pandya.
The outcome of the bypolls is expected to favour the BJP who have greater strength in the assembly. “The Congress party candidates filled in the forms and so the elections are happening. The Congress seems to be having difficulty in accepting the reality,” Pandya said.
The Congress had already challenged the Election Commission’s decision to hold separate elections to the Rajya Sabha seats in the state, the petition for which was dismissed by the apex court.
While Chetan Pandya, deputy secretary of Gujarat Assembly is the Returning Officer and the Presiding Officer for the polls, S Murali Krishna, Chief Electoral Officer, Gujarat, will be the observer for the Rajya Sabha polls in the state.