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High drama in Delhi over Gujarat RS polls

PTI

NEW DELHI
In a major reprieve to the Congress, the Election Commission on Tuesday night rejected the votes cast by its two MLAs for violating the “secrecy of ballots” in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections.
The commission also asked the returning officer for the polls to segregate the two ballots cast by Bholabhai Gohil and Raghavjibhai Patel and proceed with the counting.
The order said that while going through the video footage of the polling process, it found that the two had violated the secrecy of ballots.
Earlier, high drama was enacted at the Election Commission on Tuesday night over the delay in start of counting for the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections after Congress approached the poll panel demanding cancellation of votes of its two MLAs for showing the ballots to BJP chief Amit Shah.
Three delegations each of the Congress and BJP made a dash for ‘Nirvachan Sadan’ within a span of two hours, with the former demanding that the votes of its MLAs Bholabhai Gohil and Raghavjibhai Patel be declared invalid.
Congress was the first to move the poll panel demanding cancellation of votes of its two disgruntled MLAs for allegedly showing their votes to persons other than the authorised party representatives.
Congress leaders Randeep Surjewala and RPN Singh also produced a video of the poll proceedings to the commission and demanded that votes of Bholabhai Gohil and Raghavjibhai Patel be cancelled as per law since they violated the “secrecy of ballot”.
According to the rules, voters for the Rajya Sabha elections have to show their ballots to authorised representative of their respective parties before casting them.
Terming Congress’ objections as “baseless”, a delegation of BJP leaders, including Union ministers Arun Jaitley, Ravi Shankar Prasad and Piyush Goyal, approached the EC demanding immediate counting of votes, contending that validity of votes once put in ballot boxes cannot be questioned.
Prasad said the Congress was acting out of fear of losing the poll, in which its senior leader Ahmed Patel is locked in a tight fight with a Congress rebel fielded by the BJP.
Immediately, after the visit of the high-profile BJP team, Congress heavyweight P Chidambaram led another delegation to the EC.
After the meeting, Chidambarm told reporters, “If the BJP is so confident of winning the election then it must abide by the law. And the law is very clear. If the ballot is seen by a person other than the authorised person then it is liable to be rejected. BJP was beneficiary of this law on June 11, 2016. How was law changed in one year. These two ballot papers must be rejected.”
He was apparently referring to the Rajya Sabha election in Haryana in which BJP-backed Independent candidate Subhash Chandra had defeated Congress-supported candidate R K Anand after votes of several MLAs were declared invalid.
Objecting to Congress’ contention, BJP leaders also paid a second visit to the commission and insisted on their demand for immediate counting of the votes.
“The votes cast by these two MLAs are required to be cancelled for the reason of voting procedure violation,” Congress said in its memorandum to the Commission.
Surjewala alleged that the two legislators, instead of showing their ballots to party’s election agent, displayed it to BJP president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani, which he said, “should not be accepted”.
The BJP has nominated Shah and Irani for two Rajya Sabha seats from the state.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary Ahmed Patel is pitted against the saffron party’s Balwantsinh Rajput for the third seat.
It has become a high-stakes battle for Congress, thanks to infighting and resignations, with the BJP fancying its prospects to win the third seat also, defeating Patel, who is seeking a fifth RS term.
The Congress, alleging that its MLAs were being poached by the BJP, had packed off 44 of them to a Bengaluru resort to keep their flock together.

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