No brazen muscle flexing, voter intimidation or rigging at booth levels like in Lok Sabha or assembly elections- much of it happens behind the scenes, away from the public eye.
Cross-voting, right ink/wrong ink, cancelled votes, transfer of votes… the matrix is rather complex. Sometimes, the results can surprise even the most seasoned political pundits. Let’s look at some of the interesting and most talked about episodes from the recent past.
Ahmed Patel, 2017
Congress’ Ahmed Patel made it to Rajya Sabha from Gujarat in 2017, but only just, in a finish reminiscent of an India-Pakistan one-day thriller.
It should have been a cakewalk for Patel, riding on the party’s 57 MLAs in the assembly. But the drama started to unfold about two weeks before the elections.
6 MLAs resigned, in a rebellion said to have been engineered by disgruntled Congressman Shankarsinh Vaghela, thus bringing the party’s number down to 51. But only 42 of the MLAs committed to voting for Patel.
BJP was assured of winning 2 of the three seats that were up for grabs. For the third, it fielded a Congress rebel who had joined the party after resigning as MLA.
In the end, Patel managed to win on technical grounds.
On polling day, after votes were cast, Congress approached the Election Commission, alleging that 2 of its rebels had shown their ballots to an unauthorised person, and therefore their votes be invalidated. A BJP delegation also knocked on the EC’s doors, contending that a vote can’t be cancelled once it was safely inside the ballot box.
The suspense continued late into the night, and results were declared only around 2 am.
The Commission upheld the Congress’ argument. This brought the target votes for Patel to win down from 45 to 44. He managed just as many, scraping through with 42 votes of the Congress and 1 each from NCP and JD(U).
Subhas Chandra, 2016
90 Haryana legislators were voting for 2 Rajya Sabha seats in 2016. BJP’s Birender Singh was assured of a victory as his party had more than enough strength in the House. Subhash Chandra vs RK Anand should have been a no-contest, one would have thought, after Congress (17 seats) threw its support behind the INLD (19 seats) candidate Anand.
As the numbers stacked up, Anand should have gone comfortably past BJP-backed Independent Chandra. And that is where it all became murky.
14 Congress MLAs’ votes were cancelled. Reason – they marked the ballot with ‘wrong’ pen- other than the one provided by the returning officer.
This effectively lowered the number of votes a candidate needed to secure to win, from 31 to 26. BJP’s Birender Singh got 40 votes, Anand 21 and Chandra 15. However, the 14 ‘extra’ votes that Singh had secured got transferred to Chandra, who was the 2nd option marked by the BJP legislators on ballot papers. So, he finished with 29, ahead of Anand.
The matter even went to court, where Anand’s petition challenging Chandra’s election was dismissed.
Vijay Mallya, 2002 & 2010
Is Vijay Mallya a nice guy, or bad? Well, the question seems relative, and the answer depends on when and who is being asked.
Both Congress and BJP had, on different occasions, in collusion with JD(S), ensured a Rajya Sabha passage from Karnataka for the liquor baron. Now, they want him extradited back to India from UK, and put to trial for bank fraud.
For both his stints, in 2002 and 2010, Mallya as an Independent candidate had the backing of the JD(S). In 2002, the party got the Congress to support Mallya through transfer of extra votes. He romped home with 51 votes, against the 45 required to secure victory.
In 2010 it was BJP that ensured Mallya a RS seat, by transferring its extra votes. The saffron party later insisted that Mallya was really a JD(S) man, and they helped him only to deny Congress a second Rajya Sabha seat from Karnataka.
Allegations of cross-voting and Mallya using his deep pockets to influence MLAs flew thick and fast on both occasions.
There is hardly ever a Rajya Sabha election that goes without some murmur of cross-voting. Covert or overt defiance of party whips to downright sabotage – Rajya Sabha elections see it all, and on a regular basis. Suspension, expulsion from party and other disciplinary actions have not been able to stop the practice.
In 2016, the JD(S) suspended eight of its MLAs for cross-voting in Karnataka after they voted for the Congress candidate.
Likewise in 2018, BSP, RLD and Nishad Party suspended an MLA each for cross-voting in the UP Rajya Sabha elections.
To stem the malaise, an Open Ballot system was adopted for Rajya Sabha elections. This allows a party to appoint an agent, who is authorised to ‘check’ the marked ballot papers of party MLAs before it being deposited in a ballot box. This was introduced to enhance transparency, check ‘conscience’ voting and ensure loyalty to the party an MLA represents.
There have been arguments for and against the Open Ballot system. A petition too was filed against it in the Supreme Court. But the court upheld the Constitutional validity of the process, and said: “if secrecy becomes a source for corruption, then sunlight and transparency have the capacity to remove it.”
Secret or open ballots, cross-voting remains a worry for parties, who often do not seem to trust the very people they helped get elected.
Ahead of Rajya Sabha polls scheduled for Friday, Congress has moved its Gujarat and Rajasthan MLAs to resorts, fearing ‘efforts to influence’. BJP too has done likewise in Rajasthan.
So, will June 19 unfold with more stories like these? Let’s wait and watch!