EC’s order on Gujarat Rajya Sabha election shows the power of India’s constitutional bodies
The commission dismissed the votes of two Congress defectors, who had reportedly shown their ballot papers to rival BJP leaders during the Gujarat Rajya Sabha by-elections on Tuesdayanalysis Updated: Aug 10, 2017 10:52 IST
It’s not often that the Election Commission burns the midnight oil to resolve a dramatic electoral battle.
On Tuesday, however, it did and in doing so, political experts believe, it lay down a milestone for its journey.
The commission dismissed the votes of two Congress defectors, who had reportedly shown their ballot papers to rival BJP leaders during the Gujarat Rajya Sabha by-elections on Tuesday. The decision resulted in a close victory for one of Congress’s chief strategists, Ahmed Patel.
N Gopalaswami, former Election Commission chief, compared the role played by the EC on Tuesday to interventions such as when the Congress was divided in 1969 and the symbol distribution of erstwhile Janata Party factions.
Former parliamentary affairs secretary Afzal Amanullah maintained that the panel was a “shining star in the night” and, that its order scrapping the two votes of Congress rebels show the power of India’s constitutional bodies.
Amanullah pointed out that it was rare for senior leaders like finance minister Arun Jaitley, P Chidambaram, and law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to rush to the EC to argue a case “related to one seat in one state election.”
“The facts speak for themselves. The EC gave a patient hearing. It could have easily asked the parties to only give written memorandum,” Gopalaswami told Hindustan Times.
An official working closely with the Aam Aadmi Party government too acknowledged the pivotal role of the EC. “The poll body had been at the receiving end of criticism over many issues like the tampering of EVMs. The order will certainly silence many of its critics,” the official said.
The AAP was one of the party’s that had questioned the quality of voting machines after state elections earlier this year.
Gopalaswami pointed out that EC’s quoting of the Supreme Court judgment in the Kuldip Nayyar case was important as “it is the only order that clearly says that the voter can show his paper to only his party agent.”
“A combined reading of the Rules 39A and 39AA will show that the rule is very clear that the elector has to show his ballot paper only to the authorised representative of his party and to no one else,” the EC said on Tuesday quoting from the SC order.
Thus, “the two electors violated the voting procedure of secrecy of the ballot papers when they exercised their right to vote”.
Members in the Rajya Sabha, parliament’s Upper House, are mostly elected by MLAs in states. Some others are nominated.
The SC order cited by the elections watchdog was part of Congress’s memorandum that it took to the commission shortly after the election on Tuesday.
The Congress said that according to the ruling in the Nayar case, it was clear that “in Rajya Sabha elections, open ballot only means that the MLA can show the vote to the authorised representative of his party and none other”.
The BJP leaders had argued that the Returning Officer is the statutory officer to conduct polling and decide the validity of ballot paper, and the Commission has no power as the field is already covered by the enacted laws.
But the commission questioned the Returning Officer’s conduct. “He has not taken the two ballot papers in question back from the voters concerned.”