Returning Officer RK Nandal has asserted that the election to the two Rajya Sabha seats in Haryana on Saturday was conducted “properly” under video surveillance and the state poll machinery can provide evidence if either the Election Commission of India (ECI) or the High Court seek it.
Responding to allegations of “high-level conspiracy” by former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Nandal, who is also the secretary to the Haryana Assembly, told The Indian Express onSunday, “The election was conducted properly and entire process was recorded on video. If the ECI or the High Court wants evidence of this, we shall provide it. No agent or candidate made any objections at the time of polling. We have nothing to say about allegations of conspiracy by any political party.”
The results of the Haryana Rajya Sabha polls have been mired in controversy as the votes of 12 Congress legislators weredeclared invalid on the ground that they were inked using the wrong pen. As a result, lawyer RK Anand, the candidate Congress was rooting for, lost the election and BJP-backed media baron Subhash Chandra won. While some saw this as a potential revolt by Hooda, the Congress leader blamed the Returning Officer alleging that the pen used to cast votes was provided by Nandal. The party will approach the ECI on Monday to seek a re-poll.
Officials at the ECI, however, are not convinced by the Congress’ theory of the dodgy pen provided by its RO. “An MLA marks preferences on the ballot in the voting compartment. The voter is alone here and there is no way to tell or check if he or she, at this moment, used a pen other than the one provided by the RO to ink preferences. MLAs are not frisked before entering the polling area. So how does one know if they are carrying a concealed pen of their own?” an ECI official told this reporter on the condition of anonymity.
When asked why MLAs are not frisked before voting, Nandal said, “We inform the legislators about the prohibited items and request them to deposit it before entering. These are respectable MLAs. We cannot check them to see if they are hiding a pen or not.”
“But it’s not as if the legislators are not aware of the rules. All MLAs are sent a notice, in writing, well in advance informing them that voting with a pen other than the one provided by the RO will make their ballot invalid. It was done this time as well,” he added.
As per the Conduct of Elections Rules, 1961, a voter is suppose to mark the ballot paper with the “instrument supplied for the purpose”. For Rajya Sabha elections, the ECI has decided that this “instrument” will be a violet marker pen.
This pen can be procured locally by the RO or the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of the state concerned. In the case of Haryana RS polls, Nandal told this reporter that the pen was provided by Haryana CEO Vijay Singh Dahiya.
“The logic behind casting all votes in the same colour by using the same pen is to ensure secrecy of vote. In other words, if, say, an MLA has accepted bribe to vote in favour of a particular candidate, he can indicate that he has met his end of the bargain by inking the ballot in a different colour, which can later be identified at the time of counting,” said another ECI official, who did not wish to identified.
But in Rajya Sabha polls, an authorised agent of every political party can see the party votes before they are cast. So how could Congress general secretary Hariprasad, who was the party agent on Saturday, not see that his MLAs had used a different pen on the ballot papers.
“The 12 rejected votes were inked in blue, which looks similar to violet. Maybe the party agent could not distinguish the minor difference at the time of checking the ballot papers. But during counting, when compared to the other ballot papers, the difference in colour on these 12 votes was evident,” Nandal said.
ECI sources told The Indian Express that once results are declared, the Commission is unlikely to order a re-poll. “Congress’ only option is to file an election petition in court,” said the first Commission official.