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NOTA option for MLAs in Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls may upset Congress’ plan to ensure Ahmed Patel’s win

DailyBite
DailyBiteAug 01, 2017 | 16:50

NOTA option for MLAs in Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls may upset Congress’ plan to ensure Ahmed Patel’s win

The “None Of The Above” (NOTA) option has been made available to the members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) voting in the August 8 Gujarat Rajya Sabha polls, according to reports. The Secretary of Gujarat Assembly, DM Patel, has read out the Election Commission decision in Rajya Sabha today, saying: “As per the directions issued by the Election Commission of India in 2013, NOTA option will be printed on the ballot paper.”

The highly controversial decision by the EC to allow NOTA in a Rajya Sabha poll, unprecedented so far, has naturally ensured a hue and cry among the ranks of the Opposition parties, chiefly Congress, which is seeing one of the most volatile times of mutiny and defection from its camp in decades. Amid the resignation of top Gujarat Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela and the allegations of cross-voting during the presidential elections that saw at least 11 Congress MLAs voting in favour of the NDA candidate Ram Nath Kovind, the decision to allow NOTA would further lower the morale of the Congress party.

However, DM Patel, the Gujarat Assembly Secretary said: "Rajya Sabha polls are taking place after almost 20 years or more. So it will be a first time experience for most of the 182 MLAs." He added that the four candidates are fighting for three seats, and this would mean that there’s a definite contest and no question of electing unopposed.

The Congress, naturally, is extremely rattled. Congress leader Kapil Sibal and the Rajya Sabha seat contestant Ahmed Patel, also secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, have issued scathing tweets:

The Congress has also decided to issue the whip, which means that the MLAs can only vote according to the official party line. While this would have otherwise eliminated the chances of cross-voting, the NOTA option puts a spanner in the wheel of Congress’ plan to ensure Ahmed Patel’s win.

It must be remembered that the three seats that are being contested have BJP national president Amit Shah and the newly inducted Information and Broadcasting minister Smriti Irani, in addition to Congress’ Patel. However, the BJP has decided to field the new joinee Balwantsinh Rajput in the third RS seat against Ahmed Patel. Until the end of July, Rajput was Congress’ political eye candy and the Gujarat Congress’ chief whip in the Assembly.

Unleashing NOTA to counter Congress using the whip during elections may, however, be controversial. Already, Congress MPs in Rajya Sabha, such as Sibal, Anand Sharma and others, have raised the issue in the House. Sharma asked:

"It vitiates the election... Constitution has not been amended. Representation of People Act has not been amended. NOTA has been introduced... unless Constitution is amended, how can this be done?"

Sharma added that the RS vacancies are notified by the House and a new provision cannot be just inserted in between without amending the Constitution. Though, leader of the House in RS, Union minister Arun Jaitley said the Supreme Court judgement of 2013 allows for the provision, the Congress leaders bitterly contested his claim.

"The judgement came several years before this government came to power. The Election Commission pursuant to that judgement had issued some notification under Article 324. Article 324 covers all election in this country and therefore that's a cirucular which they issued, not now, but earlier," Jaitley said. 

To which Sharma contested that even the president and vice-president’s election should have had NOTA, and the rule cannot be introduced just days before the RS polls were due. Sharma added that only Parliament could legislate such an amendment to apply NOTA to RS polls as well (it’s applicable to Lok Sabha polls).

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Battered Congress

As senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai has observed, there’s desperation amongst both quarters over the forthcoming Gujarat Assembly elections. While the Congress has parked its MLAs in a Bengaluru hotel to avoid being wooed by the rival BJP, Amit Shah is leaving no stone unturned to give the Congress a comprehensive defeat not only in the Assembly, but also in the Rajya Sabha polls of August 8.

Sardesai observed:

“For decades, Gujarat politics was marked by an element of political 'collusion' between government and opposition where both sides competed but also created space for the other without ugly confrontation. The rise of the BJP in the 1990s and the Gujarat riots of 2002 sharpened the battle lines but there was still a measure of what Gujaratis would term, in keeping with their mercantilist traditions, as political “len-den (give and take)”.

Even in the mid ‘90s, when Shankarsinh Vaghela split the BJP and ferreted his MLAs to a resort to Khajuraho, it was primarily a battle for supremacy within a “parivar”. All that has changed: now we have the virtual declaration of “war” between the BJP and the Congress in the state akin to what you might see in more battle scarred states like a UP or a Tamil Nadu. Why has one Rajya Sabha seat sparked off a virtual political Mahabharata in Gujarat?”

On Ahmed Patel, Sardesai said:

“The seat at stake is that of Ahmed Patel, the Congress's man for all seasons. Patel is not just another Congress MP: he is Sonia Gandhi's eyes and ears and has been so as her political secretary for more than a decade (since 2001). He has been a Rajya Sabha MP since 1993 and a three time Lok Sabha MP before that.

No Congress politician has arguably had such a sustained period of dominance at the heart of the corridors of power like him (even Pranab Mukherjee has now “retired”). A defeat for Ahmed bhai - as he is known to friends and rivals - in this election, would be a virtual dagger in the heart of Sonia Gandhi's inner circle. The battle then is not for just a single Rajya Sabha seat: at stake is the future of Sonia Gandhi's political points-person and through him that of her control and influence over the Congress party. 

After all, if Congress MLAs don't hold together for their Supreme Leader's key aide, then how long before the entire party splits apart and we move even closer to a “Congress-mukt” Bharat? Which explains the desperate attempt by the Congress, to now ferret the “loyalist” MLAs to a hotel in Congress-ruled Karnataka? Already under increasing pressure after the 2014 Lok Sabha debacle, a loss for Ahmed Patel could mark the beginning of the end for the Congress's first family stranglehold over the party.”

It’s a do-or-die battle now, and this has resulted in a complete uglification of politics. In this no-holds-barred electoral war, the electoral Darwinism of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah is proving to be invincible so far. The sudden insertion of NOTA is an extension of that long-winded game of chess to maintain BJP’s political hegemony in home turf Gujarat.

Last updated: August 01, 2017 | 18:09
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