The results of the Rajya Sabha elections in Gujarat came as a surprise to many when the Election Commission (EC) announced that senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel won a seat defeating former colleague and Bharatiya Janata Party candidate Balwantsinh Rajput. BJP president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani have also won seats in the Upper House.
"Satyamev Jayate. This is not just my victory. It is a defeat of the most blatant use of money power, muscle power and abuse of state machinery. I want to thank each & every MLA who voted for me despite unprecedented intimidation & pressure from BJP. They voted for an inclusive India," Patel wrote on Twitter.
He added: "BJP stands exposed of personal vendetta and political terror. People of Gujarat will give them a befitting reply in this year's election. I thank my party leadership for giving me this opportunity & all my party workers & colleagues whose relentless hard work made this possible."
How it all happened
In a dramatic turn of events, the EC invoked Article 324 of the Constitution to repeal the decision of its Returning Officer (RO) in Gujarat and declare votes cast by a couple of Congress MLAs as invalid.
The poll panel's decision came after Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala and former Union minister RPN Singh complained that two of its MLAs — Bhola Bhai Gohel and Raghavji Bhai Patel — voted and showed their ballot papers to an unauthorised person other than the Congress' election agent thereby violating Rule 39A and Rule 39AA under the Conduct of Elections Rules 1961.
The BJP's response came next with Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad saying that a party delegation, led by Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, had "requested EC to reject Congress's plea as once votes are cast, then nothing can be done and the process was fair".
Prasad also raised questions as to why Congress had not complained earlier. "Since morning, Congress has been claiming a win. Now with defeat staring in their face, they are making desperate attempts," he told reporters.
However, the Congress delegation, led by former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, returned to the EC headquarters the second time arguing that the two ballot papers be declared invalid citing similar incidents in the past.
"The most recent precedent was in Haryana on June 11, 2016. On that day, in the election to the Rajya Sabha, a Congress MLA's vote was rejected on the ground that the ballot paper had been seen by a person other than the authorised person. There was another precedent in 2000 in Rajasthan where an independent MLA's ballot paper was rejected on the ground that it was seen by a person other than the authorised person," Chidambaram said.
"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. The BJP was the beneficiary of this law on June 11, 2016. How has law changed in one year? These two ballot papers must be rejected," he added.
However, when both the delegations went to the EC headquarters, the election commissioners had to decline to meet them as it wished to check facts and announce their decision soon.
EC declares invalid votes cast by two Congress MLAs
The poll panel examined video footage of the two MLAs casting their votes and found that the complaint by Congress was valid. Therefore, the EC revoked the RO's decision at 11.25 pm and ordered that the votes cast by the two legislators be declared invalid.
"Such segregation can be done at the time of counting with reference to the serial numbers of the ballot papers issued to the electors concerned as per the record maintained on the counter foils of ballots papers under Rule 38A," the EC said.
It also rejected BJP's claims that the poll panel "has no power" to declare votes invalid and that the RO was the statutory authority for polling and counting. The EC stated that it had the right "to act in those vacuous areas where either the law made by Parliament is silent or makes insufficient provision to deal with a situation in the conduct of election."
The counting of votes got delayed by more than six hours with the elections in Gujarat moving to the poll panel's headquarters in New Delhi and top leaders of BJP and Congress, including legal experts, visiting the election commissioners with their arguments and counter-arguments.
Counting began again around midnight but had to be halted after BJP raised objections. The results were finally declared at 2 am on Wednesday giving reason to Congress to celebrate Patel's win.