A day after votes of 14 of its MLAs were found invalid in the Rajya Sabha elections in Haryana, resulting in the defeat of R K Anand, the candidate backed by it, the Congress high command Sunday began an exercise to ascertain what went wrong. It received two sequence of events — and in both the needle of suspicion is on former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda.
The Indian Express spoke to several Congress leaders from Haryana and from the central leadership to piece together the sequence of events. It also spoke to Anand, who alleged there was collusion between Hooda and the BJP leadership and that the conspiracy was to defeat him and lay the blame on Kuldeep Bishnoi, who had joined the Congress recently.
There are also two versions on whose votes were found valid. Out of the 17 Congress votes, three were found valid. According to the INLD, which had put up Anand and which has released the voting series, the votes of Congress MLAs Kiran Choudhary, Kuldeep Sharma and Geeta Bhukkal were valid.
When The Indian Express contacted Bishnoi, he said his vote and that of his wife Renuka and Choudhary were found valid. He refused to elaborate and merely said, “Whatever has happened was very unfortunate and it should be investigated at the party level.”
The Congress has decided to approach the Election Commission (EC) seeking countermanding of elections to the two Rajya Sabha seats and claiming a “conspiracy” behind the rejection of the votes of its MLAs. Congress general secretary B K Hariprasad and state Congress chief Ashok Tanwar, who finalised the petition after consulting party legal representatives, will meet the EC on Monday.
Hariprasad told The Indian Express, “It was a deliberate attempt by the returning officer to cancel our votes. It is a deliberate fraud.”
The first theory: ‘Internal sabotage’
According to some Congress leaders, almost all the BJP and INLD members cast their votes first. From the Congress, CLP leader Kiran Choudhary, the Bishnois and Randeep Singh Surjewala were the first ones to vote. Surjewala’s vote was challenged by the BJP agent arguing Choudhary had seen his ballot paper. His vote was later declared invalid on that ground.
After that, Hooda and 12 MLAs owing allegiance to him turned up. A section of the Congress leaders said the first MLA from that group cast his vote using his pen, kept the pen there and took away the authorised marker from the polling area. The others followed him and used that pen. The authorised marker was later put back by the last person from that group.
As per EC rules, MLAs are required to cast their vote using a pen with indigo ink provided by the Vidhan Sabha Secretariat, whose nib must be 1 mm in thickness. Votes marked by any other colour of ink are declared invalid.
The second theory: ‘Hooda, poll officer, BJP in tandem’
As per Anand, the votes of Kiran Choudhary, Kuldeep Sharma and Geeta Bhukkal were found to be valid. The INLD candidate, who approached the Election Commission today with a petition narrating what had happened, told The Indian Express, “It is very obvious. It is a fraud played on the EC. It was done by five people who are mixed up in a conspiracy.”
According to him, these five were Hooda, the BJP-backed Independent candidate and Zee TV owner Subhash Chandra, and three MLAs (an Independent and two of the Congress).
As per Anand’s version, after Choudhary and Surjewala had cast their votes, some BJP and INLD MLAs cast their votes. That left 15 MLAs of the Congress, Independent legislator ‘J P (Bhai Jai Prakash)’ and the BJP’s Captain Abhimanyu.
“At that point of time, with the active connivance of the returning officer, the pen was changed. The pen was kept there before Renuka Bishnoi came. Her vote was cast with that blue pen. Then came Kuldeep Bishnoi. Thereafter, a host of Congress MLAs voted,” Anand alleged.
When two Congress MLAs were still left to vote, Anand says, ‘J P’ came in at “107 number” and put the original pen back. “Thereafter Kuldeep Sharma and Geeta Bhukkal (of the Congress) came and their votes were found to be valid.” And later that of Abhimanyu’s.
Pointing out that ‘J P’, a former Congress leader, was close to Hooda, Anand says “100 per cent Hooda is involved”, and adds, “They wanted to put the blame on Kuldeep Bishnoi and Renuka.”
Hooda never wanted to vote for the INLD, he added, and could have also been “pressured by the BJP because of the cases against him”.
The blank ballot: ‘It was Hooda’
According to the EC, 13 votes were found to be invalid and one ballot was blank.
From both the versions, the ballot which was blank seems to have been that of Hooda. Anand said as much on Saturday.
B K Hariprasad, the Congress agent authorised to see the votes, told The Sunday Express he had seen the votes of all the Congress MLAs barring those of Hooda, Kiran Choudhary and Surjewala, and that all of them had cast their votes for Anand. Among the three, Choudhary’s vote was found to be valid and Surjewala’s invalid.
That leaves out only Hooda, who had not shown his vote to anyone, and hence sources said it was he who had left the ballot blanket.
Sources said the PCC will now send a report to the AICC. Asked whether any action would be taken against the person who left the ballot blank, Hariprasad said, “We are waiting for a report from the PCC.”