Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel on Tuesday kicked up a row after he questioned the Election Commission’s decision to introduce NOTA in the Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections, in which he is one of the candidates, alleging that it was done “post notification”. However, the poll panel maintained that use of None of The Above (NOTA) in Rajya Sabha polls was not a new move as it was introduced in 2014 after the Supreme Court in 2013 made it mandatory to have the NOTA option in EVMs. Patel, the high-profile political secretary to party president Sonia Gandhi, also questioned the deferring of the Rajya Sabha elections by the poll panel earlier. “First Rajya Sabha election was postponed. Second NOTA was permitted post notification. Reasons best known to the Election Commission,” Patel posted on Twitter, a day after the election authorities announced here that NOTA option can be used for Rajya Sabha polls.
The EC had earlier declared that RS polls for 10 seats in Gujarat, Goa and West Bengal will be held on June 8. However, on May 22, it announced postponement of the polls which were later rescheduled for August 8. In Delhi, the Congress today approached the Election Commission against the use of NOTA option in the upcoming Rajya Sabha elections, claiming it was violative of the Constitution and electoral laws, but the poll panel maintained that it was not a new direction and was introduced in 2014. Senior Congress leaders Anand Sharma and Manish Tewari met the poll panel and demanded that the NOTA option be removed from use in the August 8 Rajya Sabha polls, in which it is facing a battle of prestige in Gujarat.
Officials in the Election Commission, who refused to be identified, however, said the directions to use NOTA in Rajya Sabha elections were enforced in January 2014 after the Supreme Court in 2013 made it mandatory to have the ‘None Of The Above’ option in EVMs. The BJP has fielded the party president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani on two Rajya Sabha seats and the former Congress leader Balwantsinh Rajput on the third seat against Patel from Gujarat.
In the 182-member Assembly, the strength of the Congress has gone down to 51 from 57 following defection of six of its MLAs.
Meanwhile, some legal experts PTI spoke to here today said if the dissident MLAs of the Congress were to vote against the party candidate in RS polls they could invite disqualification. However, they said if these MLAs were to exercise the NOTA option, they will not invite action under Anti-Defection Law.
As per the law, a member would incur disqualification when he/she voluntarily gives up the seat or when he/she votes or abstains from voting, contrary to the directives issued by his party. Following defection of party MLAs, the rattled Congress tucked away 44 of the remaining flock to a Bengaluru resort to insulate them from alleged “poaching” attempts by the BJP.
According to sources in the Congress, the contest for Patel could become close if the rebel MLAs, three of whom have already joined the BJP, were to exercise the NOTA option. It is for the first time in the last two decades that a contest will take place in a Rajya Sabha election in Gujarat as earlier candidates got elected unopposed.
Gujarat Assembly Secretary D M Patel had said the NOTA option will be printed on ballot papers to be used in the Rajya Sabha polls. “This is for the first time that NOTA will be used in Gujarat Rajya Sabha Polls,” the official said.
The Congress has also issued a whip to its MLAs to remain present on the day of the polling, failing which they will be debarred from the party for six years.
Senior party leader Arjun Modhwadia had said, “Voters will have to mark their preference on the ballot. For the BJP, there are three preferences, while for the Congress, we have only one, that is Ahmed Patel.”
Rajya Sabha elections do not take place by secret ballot. The voter (MLA) has to show the marked ballot to the party’s polling agent before putting it in the ballot box.
Meanwhile, the BJP state unit president Jitu Vaghani ridiculed Patel over his tweet. “He is very senior leader, but he doesn’t know that the decision to use NOTA was introduced in Rajya Sabha polls since 2013 in the country as per a ruling of the Supreme Court,” Vaghani said.